Winter Gatherings

An amazing spread of grilled vegetables, fresh greens, nuts, olives and cheeses assembled by my friend, Jaminda. Delicious! Photos by Rachel Cuthbert Photography

An amazing spread of grilled vegetables, fresh greens, nuts, olives and cheeses assembled by my friend, Jaminda. Delicious! Photos by Rachel Cuthbert Photography

The holiday fog has finally cleared.  Post New Years, it takes me about two weeks to dig out, regroup, and to start missing people again. ; ) As January draws to a close, and winter has clearly set in (currently digging out from 8” new inches of snow and prepping for Polar Vortex 2019), I’m often looking for ways ways to stay active when my body is screaming, “hibernate!”, to engage my mind & gather friends. As you can imagine, winters in Michigan are long and often the skies are gray. Human connection makes a big difference.

The last two Christmas seasons, I’ve hosted a book swap with a few friends and we’ve had so much fun. I love books, friends, great conversation, the holidays season & brunch!  So why not combine a few of my favorite things? It’s a really fun way to celebrate the season together. But I think it also translates well into a good winter gathering. I truly believe that meaningful conversations, shared meals, and good books are a natural mood booster.

And it’s flexible. Last year I suggested people bring their favorite non-fiction and favorite fiction book.  This year, friends brought a recent favorite and a favorite from last year.  I served coffee, mimosas, my favorite Mushroom Swiss Chard Sausage Strata and friends brought food to share as well. The goal was to swap books throughout the year. Unfortunately, trading books throughout the year didn’t go as planned so I had people bring a favorite book from the previous year. Each guest drew a number and then picked 2 books. We chose White Elephant style, so the person choosing could unwrap a book or steal a book.

Wrapped books to be swapped. Photo by Rachel Cuthbert photo

Wrapped books to be swapped. Photo by Rachel Cuthbert photo

2018 books:

  • Educated by Tara Westover (I read this book in a few days—great read and leaves so much to discuss. Though it impeded some of my pre-Christmas work. Oops! I’m one of those readers who can’t begin a good book if I actually have things I need to accomplish.  The author drew me in to her harrowing family story, but I also appreciate the care she takes care to present facts as faithfully as possible. Throughout the book she recognizes that memory can be a tricky thing, and she tries to corroborate as many details as possible.

  • Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance—One of my favorite memoirs from the last couple of years. I’ve recommended it often. Much has been written about it in light of the 2016 election, and I certainly think it lives up to its reputation as a behind the scenes account of life in modern rural Midwestern America. If you’re an audio book fan, check this one out. The author narrates, and it really brings some of the characters, like his grandmother, to life.

  • In His Image by Jen Wilkin

  • Joel: A Boy of Galilee by Annie Fellows Johnston

  • Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett—I've heard good things about this and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ve been a bit apprehensive to start because it’s a longer read and I fear that once I start, I won’t be able to put it down.

  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi This was my selection, and a book that I often think about and want to discuss. Dr. Qureshi, was a Christian apologist who came to his Christian faith as a medical student. His mind is razor sharp, and his journey to faith in Christ compelling. I first read this book in 2016 and later followed his apologetics ministry along with his battle and eventual death to stomach cancer in the fall of 2017 at the age of 33.

A few 2017 favorites: 

  • A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg—if you love food memoirs, this is a great one. 

  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken—Have read this a few times and it’s a tear jerker.  A beautiful love story with poignant spiritual depth. Includes letters between the author and CS Lewis.

  • Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

  • Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt—I hope to read this soon. I have an almost teenager and three on his heels, so I’m always looking for good Young Adult lit.

Quick note: The above books were favorites of a group of friends. Some of the books I haven’t read so I am not necessarily recommending, just sharing what we traded with one another. I think that’s what makes this a fun gathering—I love seeing what friends are reading and also being challenged to read outside my comfort zone. My personal favorites from the two lists (understanding that I haven’t read all of the books so there may be new favorites lurking) are Educated, Hillbilly Elegy, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, A Homemade Life, and A Severe Mercy.

Funny, I’m noticing a theme here… human narratives. It’s true. I’m a people person and I love the deep dive into real stories—how people deal with life—tragedy, conflicts, limited resources, etc… and ultimately how they persevere. With that said, I would love to hear some of your reading favorites from 2018 and what you plan to read in 2019.