Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

The Stack: Summer '16

shoutout my iPhone and my dad's superb hanging-giant-texas-stuff-on-the-wall skills

shoutout my iPhone and my dad's superb hanging-giant-texas-stuff-on-the-wall skills

I've always known I was like my parents in a lot of ways. I'm my dad's clone, right down to our dimples; and I share my mom's independent streak and personality quirks.

Walking into their house after my freshman year of college, though, I noticed something else I shared with them — inexplicable by DNA, more nurture than nature.

Everywhere I looked, there were stacks and stacks of books.

My dad's nightstand was piled with nonfiction (psychology, business, and Christian, primarily) and the occasional mystery, along with magazines or articles he'd snagged here and there.

My mom's nightstand was only the beginning; her collection extending to the floor between the bed and the wall, divided roughly into subject or priority, with magazines getting their own section and deadline-driven library books occupying top space.

This was all a couple yards away from a full bookshelf, mind you; not to mention reading material stuffed under our coffee table, in the kitchen (my mom and I both have a thing for specialty diet and health books à la Michael Pollan, as well as food memoirs, which may be my favorite random sub-genre), on various pieces of furniture, and in the office (which basically doubled as a library itself). Oh, and we had our old kids' books in boxes in the attic, to ensure that my children have Beverly Cleary to read and don't grow up to be illiterate, unimaginative potatoes.

I froze, looking around at the stacks exactly like the precariously balanced towers in my own dorm room, and had this very existential moment.

I... am just my parents, 19-year-old me thought. There is nothing original about me. I am just an accumulation of them and all these books.

There is a real possibility that is true; but my parents are basically the best people I know and they have excellent, broad reading taste so I have since decided I'm probably alright either way.

And even if I'm not, it's too late, because the book obsession and subsequent, ever-growing piles on every surface of my apartment — and my car — are ingrained in me at this point. I texted this (incomplete, believe it or not) photo compilation to a friend just last week, look:

You have a problem, she responded. (She also pointed out that the books/cowboy boots/protein shake bottle combo that is my backseat was a fairly accurate snapshot of me as a person, which I wasn't sure how to take but I think I can live with.)

Basically, I really like books, and I thought that as long as I was stacking em I might as well tell you, in no particular order, some of my favorites from the past few months that I'd recommend you add to your own TBR pile:

  • The Story of God, the Story of Us, Sean Gladding. The Bible in narrative form — as it was for the majority of its history! Beautiful and incredibly insightful. Rather than breaking Scripture down smaller and smaller, as we are prone to do in "study" mode, Gladding traces the arc of the full story, including stories and characters I either skim over or haven't heard since I was a kid in Sunday school. I learned so much from a historical perspective through his thoughtful footnotes, too. Incredible perspective, for sure; and one that I think everyone could use a taste of.
  • Daring Greatly, Brené Brown. This book lives up to the hype. Everyone should read this. I am so serious. Fascinating and inspiring look at vulnerability as basically the foundation for vibrant, healthy life and relationships. As someone who leans vulnerable, anyway, every page felt like a relief and validation of what I already suspected (hoped) to be true.
  • Unprocessed, Megan Kimble. I started reading this because I am a health/nutrition nerd, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well-written this book was. Very memoir-ish, in the best way. (PSA — it ruins you for just walking into a grocery store and mindlessly buying food. My dad didn't want my mom to read it after I started giving passionate speeches about, like, locally sourced yogurt. So nothing that unusual for me! but if your ignorance is bliss, then you might wanna just skip this one.)
  • The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz. (Speaking of books that challenge you ethically!) More than a beautifully written personal history, Novogratz's memoir traces the stories and social truths that motivated her to abandon a rising career in the corporate banking world, explore innovative methods for poverty alleviation, and ultimately found the Acumen Fund. Guys, I typically read books — especially nonfiction — with a pen nearby to make notes or mark favorite portions. By the time I finished this one, there was nearly as much of my own ink as the author's on the pages. I loved The Blue Sweater. It taught me, it challenged me, and it inspired me. A lot. Read it. Read it. Read it. You gotta. It will change your perspective on the world.
  • The Lost Girls, Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner. Three friends decided to quit their jobs for a year and make a round-the-world trip together in their late twenties. Then they wrote a book about it. Just some fun, fairly mindless reading — and if you're anything like me, it'll give you the travel bug.
  • Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, N.D. Wilson. I'm not usually one for highly descriptive or "flowery" writing — too often it feels like the author is just trying so hard — but my second dad (what do you call your parents' best friends who are also basically your parents???) handed me this book a few weeks ago and I basically sobbed the whole way through it, because it is so beautiful. Equal parts poetry and theology, with some humor thrown in for good measure, it will blow your mind in the best way.

So there you have it — six books you can pile on your own nightstand.

What are you reading lately?

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