In my dreams, every single book I love is loved by everyone else who ever hears me talk about it. Reality is… a little less consistent. A little messier.  But reality has the advantage of being in “the real world,” where fiction and nonfiction collide in an intertextual mess: a meeting of people, places, hang-ups, and histories.

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I picked up Burial at Sea from a box in the hipster section of Dallas. “Take one; leave one,” it said. And my friend said, “I’m pretty sure you’re just stealing that . . .” She made a valid point, but I took it anyway. It’s the fourth in a series that I don’t collect, so it will wander its way through life to another outdoor box someday soon. There, someone else will meet the gentleman detective, Charles Lenox, and enjoy the mysteries he solves in Victorian England.

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I bought Sex, Lies, and Forgiveness secondhand in the shade of Óbidos Castle in Portugal on my honeymoon. My husband only questioned my odd tastes once or twice.

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When I enter a library or a bookstore, I get a sense of the divine mystery, the excitement of majesty and wonder. Nimona is one of the few books I’ve read that brings that feeling home with me.

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Between the World and Me was an audiobook I grabbed from the library before a long road trip down to North Carolina. I started it during my detour in the Smokey Mountains. The book is Coates’s letter to his fifteen-year-old son describing what it’s like to live in a black body in modern America. As my car wound around mountains and through the ever-present smoky fog of a wet Tuesday, Coates laments: “And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body . . .”

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Before reading it, I found The Warded Man on a list of best-fantasy novels. Afterwards, I found The Warded Man to be an ode to toxic masculinity.

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I was losing interest in my religion’s holy book. Then I read Getting Involved with God by Ellen Davis.

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I read the first Attolia book in high school, at the suggestion of my best friend. I read the fifth last year during the apex of last year’s curse. In anticipation of its release I reread the first four books as slowly as I possibly could, bleeding them dry for any detail I might have missed in the last ten years of rereading them. They took me away from my life in a time when I desperately needed space from reality, and for that—and the name of my second cat—I’ll always be grateful.

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Holy Listening I read with my mother and it sparked something new in both of us.

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A friend recommended Graceling, and it knocked down all sorts of unhealthy beliefs the church had taught me about my own power.

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Rising Strong joined a group of women who sat around Monday nights drinking tea and making the occasional sex joke when the mood struck. More often we spoke about vulnerability, with opinions on the practice ranging from life-mantra to “Ugh. Gross.” For those of you who don’t know me, I was the “Ugh. Gross,” because while beautiful in theory, vulnerability as a practice in a Christian church means people use those vulnerabilities against you.

Elaine Schnabel

Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).

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