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

The Stack : Spring '19

The Stack : Spring '19


Started to write a Colorado trip log, looked at my calendar, and realized I hadn’t done my Spring stack post yet! Without further ado, what I read the last few months:

The Way of Hope, Melissa Fisher. This book is so special on a lot of levels, because Melissa is a friend and someone I look up to in my own life/faith. The Way of Hope, as the subtitle says, is “a fresh perspective on sexual identity, same-sex marriage, and the church;” but all offered through the lens of her own story. I don’t know many people — myself included — brave enough to share their struggles as honestly as Melissa does in these pages. It’s raw, heartbreaking, empowering, freeing, enlightening, and so incredibly kind. On a topic where most in the American church have chosen “truth or grace” — one extreme or the other — Melissa’s book was the first thing I’ve read that I felt actually guided me in the and. Grace and truth. How to walk and love others in that tension. Please, especially if you’re a Christian, read this book. It’s so important.

The Tecate Journals, Keith Bowden. I snagged this book randomly off the shelf at Front Street Books the last time I was in Alpine and inhaled it. A memoir about canoeing the Texas length of the Rio Grande, written by a professor who calls the borderlands home. I wouldn’t say it’s balanced so much as it’s not political to begin with — I’d definitely put it in the outdoor adventure category, not social science — but it does end up painting a really interesting (and as far as I could tell, brutally honest) picture of the area and the author’s experience on it. Super interesting. Fun. Made me want to go back to West Texas and/or get on a river.

The Rock Warrior’s Way, Arno Ilgner. I hesitated to put this on here because it feels really nerdy/niche, but when I started lead climbing in January and was so mentally freaked out by it, a couple friends at the gym mentioned I should check this book out, and it made a huge difference for me. Basically, it’s a mental training book for climbers (though the principles could apply more broadly for sure). From what little I know of stoicism, it seems to be rooted in the same kind of principles — kind of strikes me as if Ryan Holiday wrote a book for climbers. Maybe a little cerebral, but like I said, I’ve made big strides as a result. Definitely one I’ll need to return to every now and then as I keep climbing.

Water from My Heart, Charles Martin. Fiction! Ya girl read fiction! Where’s my gold star? Okay but seriously, this book came highly recommended from basically every member of my family, and they were very right. I picked it up and basically didn’t put it back down again until the last page. It tells a really complex story (the main character is a drug dealer) in a captivating way. Fast-paced. A fun read. Definitely worth setting aside my non-fiction for a couple days.

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson. So, a fun fact about these stack posts is that I often start them as a note on my phone — the book titles listed with a very, very casual description that gives me a starting point for what to write here. Next to this title, though, is just an all-caps keyboard smash. (“A;LIESRHFA;LSEFJA;ISELF;AKLSD.”) A memoir/social justice account of lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama to provide legal service to the poor, needy, and wrongly condemned in our prison system. I can’t say enough about the importance of this book. Be prepared to be angry and heartbroken while you read it — I cried a lot of tears. But if you go into it with an open heart, willing to feel that hurt, it will change you and how you look at other people for the better. Such, such a good book. Such a good book. (Also, if all you do is read the introduction, that’s honestly enough to change your life.)

She Explores, Gale Straub. A beautiful, coffee-table-style collection of essays and ridiculously beautiful photographs from women who love and prioritize the outdoors, in all their individual ways, from all their unique perspectives. She Explores has long been a favorite podcast of mine, and founder Gale Straub is such a professional inspiration for me — her creative work in the outdoor industry gives me something to look up to. Love this book for the same reason I love her other work — it inspires me and so often makes me feel understood. This is the kind of book I hope to make someday. :)

Buttermilk Graffiti, Edward Lee. Okay, this was a DNF for me. I bought this book primarily, I admit, because I LOVE THE COVER. I LOVE IT! I don’t know why I love it so much, but I love it so much. And it sounded like just the kind of book I’d like — a food memoir mixed with travel. (For someone who doesn’t like to cook, I love reading about people who do like to cook, cooking. I can’t explain this. It’s just a fun fact about me. Now you know.) Here’s the thing: It’s a fast read, and a flavorful one. (I didn’t write that as an intentional pun, but here we are.) It includes a lot of recipes, so if you do like to cook, you’re in luck there. I just think the writing didn’t feel cohesive to me — it was a little all over the place, a lot of loose threads that didn’t tie up, but it felt like he thought they did, or felt like he thought that the fact that they didn’t was very artistic, and anyway it just wasn’t my cup of tea and there were so many books I wanted to get to that I didn’t feel like seeing it through. If you love food/cooking more than I do, you may love it! (And my standards in this genre may just be ridiculously high, given that when I read it, it’s mostly Laurie Colwin and Ruth Reichl and the like.)

As Above, So Below, Chris Kalman. Talk about this novella was circulating among a lot of people whose work I follow and respect on social media, which pushed me to check it out. The story of a father and son climbing in Patagonia (sorry, climbing again!) is short, but packs a lot of depth and emotion into its few pages. As a climber, it was heart-wrenching, but offered some really raw insight to the balance of risk management in high-stakes settings, and the people who walk that line. As a writer, and one with a journalism background, I also so admired the writing style and structure. It’s sparse and beautiful — the kind of writing that takes incredible discipline, and Kalman did it so well. (Also also, he’s been very upfront on social media about the publishing and marketing process, and he’s genuinely taught me a lot through sharing his experience and thoughts. The internet has a lot of bad to it, but as a writer, I’m endlessly thankful for the education and connection it gives me to others further down the path I hope to follow.) All that to say, this book is heavy but gorgeously written, and you should check it out.

That’s it for my Spring stack! What have you been reading lately? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Trip Log: Steamboat Springs

Trip Log: Steamboat Springs

Four Years Later

Four Years Later