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

The Stack: Winter '18/'19

The Stack: Winter '18/'19


I’ll be honest, I’m surprised I ended up waiting as long as I did to post this Stack, because I’m pretty darn proud of it.

I try to read around sixish books a quarter, and this time, I got through seven. I honestly thought it was more than that, but hey. What can you do.

At any rate, I’ll be over here giving myself a gold star for my bookishness and I hope you enjoy/get some good recommendations from this post — and seriously, leave me suggestions of your own! Always looking for new reads.

Falling Free, Shannan Martin. This book moved me to tears frequently. The story of one family’s calling to give up what they thought was their dream life to follow God’s call to a neighborhood they wouldn’t choose for themselves and choose to root in that community. A super sweet, raw and challenging book — some of the things in it are things I feel (and have long felt) very specifically called to, especially her chapter on family and how God has redefined that term for her. Some of the things in it I don’t necessarily feel called to, at least not in the way Shannan and her family have been, and honestly, I wrestled with some of her more sweeping, this-is-for-everyone statements in the book. Personally, I’m not sure where I fall on every topic she brings up, but I think in my own faith I want to always err on the side of discomfort — exploring those issues and areas where I tend to be less open-handed and make sure that I’m not using safety and happiness as my barometer for life rather than God’s will and truth. It was a fantastic book for leaning into those rough edges and getting honest with myself, and I’d suggest it for anyone who wants to do the same.

The Third Door, Alex Banayan. My dad got this book for me and my sister for Christmas, and I crushed it in two days. A sort of entrepreneurial playbook for making connections, but told through the author’s own (and completely wild) narrative. A fun and super informative read for anyone who works for themselves, side-hustles, or wants to. It’s motivated me to be less bashful about reaching out to people I want to learn from!

Congratulations, Who Are You Again?, Harrison Scott Key. A book about writing and publishing a book by an extremely funny guy. If you’re a writer (or anyone with a big dream, really), you will love this so much. Read it.

Open Heart, Open Mind; Clara Hughes. The autobiography of Canadian Olympic cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes, as recommended to me by Canadian friend and travel partner extraordinaire Nikki McCombe. Such a compelling read, especially if you like sports; and also just a fascinating peek behind the curtain into a complicated life. It’s easy to see people who have achieved things at a very high level, especially athletes, and forget that they are real humans with complex stories instead of, you know, skating and cycling robots. I’m also always personally interested in how people who don’t share my faith navigate hard things — especially family issues — and this was illuminating in that regard, too.

I Might Regret This, Abbi Jacobson. Gonna be real with you guys! I did not like this book and do not recommend it. I loved the concept — girl goes on post-breakup road trip, writes and draws along the way to share the experience with us. I loved the cover. I have a feeling I would enjoy Abbi in real life — the woman’s made a living being funny on TV, basically. But being funny in person and being funny in writing are different things, and it just didn’t translate, in my opinion. I always feel like a horrible person when I rag on someone’s writing style, because as a writer, I get how hard and how vulnerable it is, and I also know there are a million different ways to write and people connect with different styles. I also know that the line between meaningful sharing and self-indulgence can be thin/blurry (something I constantly worry about, honestly), so I’m sympathetic to her even though it feels like she super overstepped that bound. Basically, this book just seemed like it never saw an editor. Pick it up the next time you’re in a bookstore and skim for her drawings and side notes that pertain to the actual trip, because those were great, but the rest is basically just stream-of-consciousness thoughts. (Also, as a note, she’s heavy on language and some fairly explicit content, so. Yeah. Didn’t finish it, and don’t recommend it.)

Braving It, James Campbell. A sort of combo coming-of-age and travel memoir written by a father about his travels to Alaska with his teenage daughter. I loved this book on every level. The writing was smart and journalistic, painted a gorgeous picture of the land it took place in, and made me want to go raft and camp and hike like you would not believe. Campbell was beautifully honest and human in talking about his relationship with his daughter, and it made me want to hug my dad a million times. And he has these incredible nuggets of wisdom and understanding dropped in that made me feel super known — if you’re someone who struggles with restlessness and just a general thirst for life (that sounds dramatic, but my other people like this get what I mean), you’ll have a few of these breathtaking moments where he says things you’ve always wanted to say but never had quite the right words to explain. Good, good stuff.

Swell!, Liz Clark. Being completely honest, I didn’t get completely through this book yet — it’s a full-length memoir, but combined into a sort of coffee-table book, too. Swell! is the story of Captain Liz Clark as she navigates a round-the-world sailing trip with a rotating crew of friends (and sometimes strangers); and while that journey and its bright, beautiful photos and illustrations are really why I purchased the book, I wasn’t expecting the level of gut-wrenching honesty she shares throughout her story. There’s plenty worldview-wise I disagree with Liz on, but every chapter I’ve read makes me want to hug her and hang out. The book is focused on her sailing trip, so I’ve gotten a cool mini-education on sailboats; but she mixes it in with very vulnerable self-reflection and clear admissions that, basically, she’s just figuring things out as she goes. While I think that’s true for all of us — even those of us following Christ are taking it day-by-day and learning from him as we go! — it’s a rare stance for someone to take in published form, and it’s just been super interesting as a reader. I can’t think of another memoir I’ve read where the author basically says, so often and so up-front, “I don’t know.” Going to be one of those I pick up off and on, sometimes just to flip through the images, but definitely a deeper read than the fun wanderlust piece I thought it was originally! (Also, if you pick it up for yourself, plz keep in mind I haven’t finished it and that means there’s always the possibility it contains something you’d be completely offended by and I always just worry about that when I review DNF books so. Yeah.)

Alright, that’s my winter reading list. Again, let me know what was on yours and anything I should check out!

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