All posts by carissajoy

About carissajoy

My name is Carissa. I like to write, read, and be inspired.

What I Read: April 2018

Great news, dear reader: This month was full of fun, good reads! You’ll only find one school-related read on this list, which means I am enjoying some lovely leisure reading.

The Martian

Andy Weir

In anticipation of attending Silicon Valley Comic Con this month, I decided to read a popular book-turned-film from one of this year’s panelists, Andy Weir. Science fiction isn’t normally my go-to genre, especially highly technical writing like Weir’s. I didn’t take chemistry in school, so I was lost for almost all the science-y parts. But he incorporates intelligent and often biting humor and wit, and it was a delight to read. The movie is amazing as well, and I’ve seen NASA scientists call it incredibly accurate. So, that’s saying something, I guess.

Andy Weir as an author is also phenomenal to hear in person: at the panel, he was kind and funny (much like his main character in The Martian), and it’s obvious he loves this genre dearly. He’s almost a pioneer of “hard” science fiction writing, and it’s neat to see him taking the front lines.


Andy Weir

After hearing about Weir’s second novel at his panel, I knew I needed to read it. Just like his first book, his protagonist is witty and clever. I didn’t feel as much noble purpose driving this novel–or perhaps I didn’t feel quite as much empathy for the narrator. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating, science-y, and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Everybody Always

Bob Goff

When my friend Michelle gave me Bob’s first book back in college, I soaked it up and let it fuel me to love people fully in a very full season in my life. Around that time, I got to meet Bob at Liberty, and he was an icon in my faith. When Bob’s wife Sweet Maria published a book, it was perfectly timed to my stage in life on the topic of hospitality and small acts of love.

This book was perfectly timed again. It’s a great sequel to Love Does because it takes the ideas he begins with and digs in. Yes, we should love people, but what happens when it’s hard? What happens when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable? What does it look like to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and love even then? Bob allows for more nuanced, emotional, and intense ideas in this book, and I deeply appreciate it.

This book recently hit the New York Times Bestseller List, and I may have had something to do with it because of how many copies I bought for everyone I know! It’s that good.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

I don’t say this lightly: this book made me believe in literature. It’s often disparaged as a boring, plotless, or dry tale of a man and a fish, but when I read it the summer of 10th grade, I felt that I was transported to Havana and sailed out too deep into the water with Santiago. It was the first book I ever threw across the room from frustration.

When I assigned it to my juniors this year, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to memories from my youth upon a second reading. On the contrary, looking for the themes of hope and resilience showed me even more beauty in this short masterpiece.

A quote I’ll leave you with:

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

And finally, a taste of the books I’m reading in May: topics including the Holocaust, polygamy, and witches. (All in separate works, thank God.) It should be a fun month!

What I Read: March 2018

It’s time for my monthly roundup of the books I’ve read! You’ll likely notice a theme in this list: books I’ve assigned to my students! I’m reading for work a lot lately. (Best job ever?) Here’s what I finished in March:

The Great Gatsby

I read this book for the first time last summer, and I read it again with my junior class this semester. In the course of prepping, teaching, and reviewing the book, I’ve probably read it three times in a month, but it has something new and fresh for me every time, often because of my students’ questions and observations.

Some literary theorists believe that each time we approach a book, the text appears differently to us. This book is a stunning example of that to me. I’m so lucky to be in a profession where I get to reread and discuss a masterpiece like Gatsby over and over.

The Namesake

I read this book alongside my honors freshmen. It was my second reading of this book as well–I wrote a paper on it in grad school, and now I want to go back and rewrite the whole thing because this book is just as rich, if not more, on the second reading.

The depths of emotion, the beautiful descriptions, and the ideas of family and identity and cultural expectations are powerful. When I first read this book, I was a bit dissatisfied by its lack of a “happy” ending, but I discovered upon my second reading that everything resolves beautifully, and it is one of my favorite books.

Romeo and Juliet

I read this Shakespearean classic with my freshmen for the first time since high school (at which point I don’t think I really read it). Watching them act it out and seeing which parts they liked most was so much fun.

One of the most worthwhile endeavors of my college career was taking a Shakespeare class and truly learning to understand his prose; not only do I appreciate the rampant dirty jokes, but the metaphors and themes are clear to me as well. Shakespeare is a master, and his writing is always rich.

Ready Player One

This was my “fun” read this month. When my boyfriend insisted that we buy tickets weeks in advance for this new Spielberg movie, I decided I should read the book and figure out what this crazy sci-fi movie was going to be about.

The book was so, so fun. The narration by Wil Wheaton was flawless, and Ernest Cline writes a movie that plays out in your head. The movie doesn’t follow the book too closely, but I so enjoyed the adventure of the book that I almost didn’t care. Though I’m not a huge sci-fi/adventure reader, this book was a quirky, nerdy, fun little adventure and I am glad I read it!

What was on your list this month?

What I Read: February 2018

Wow! This month was another whirlwind, and I’m in shock that it’s already March. I’m the head coach of the softball team at Fremont Christian School, in addition to all my first-year teacher duties, so this month I only accomplished reading one book. But it was a fun one!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

I first watched The Princess Bride when I was in middle school. I was home with an injury and waiting to go to the doctor, and my mom, not sure what else to do with me, sat me down in front of the TV. I was enthralled, and I’ve been a member of the cult following of the movie for years.

So, the “tell-all” style of Cary Elwes’ book intrigued me, and I picked it up as a “fun read” from the bookstore. It immediately struck me with how detailed it is; it’s filled with inside-baseball references to the film industry in England and the US, and I don’t know enough about film to appreciate every reference.

But fun stories about Andre the Giant? Picture-perfect moments from filming with Robin Wright? The revelation that the actor who played Vizzini was nervous he’d get fired every day of the job? I’m in for all of it!

This book was a fun and “easy” read. Several people (including the man sitting next to me on a recent flight) told me the audiobook is amazing, with many of the cast and crew voicing their “blurbs” that appear throughout the book.

Looking forward to many more books in March!

What I read: January 2018

Welcome to the first of my monthly installments of the books I’m reading! Per my 2018 goal, I’ll be keeping track of all the books I’ve read this year here, in pursuit of reading over 30 books.

This month, I’ve started and finished a lot of things. I finished rewatching Gilmore Girls, started and finished One Day at a Time season 1, and obviously am caught up on The Bachelor.

I also started so many books–there are 5 books with varying pages bookmarked on my bedside table as I write–but I only crossed the finish line with two. I’m still reading plenty, especially as I’m teaching The Odyssey in my freshman class and The Namesake in honors, but I got fewer chances to read “me” books.

So, January was good, and February should be a good month of finishing what I started!

Here’s my two January reads:

1. Paper Towns, John Green

I’ve lost count of how often my students mention their love for John Green’s books. I had a student last semester who went to the book tour for the release of Turtles All the Way Down and gave me a John Green canvas bag, and I couldn’t in good conscience use this bag without reading a John Green book. That’s the true story of why I bought Paper Towns.

My reaction to my first John Green book: I think 2008 Carissa would have absolutely loved it, and I’m disappointed I didn’t read his fiction earlier. He writes about distinctly high school emotions, and his style is engaging and moves quickly. Reading his fiction as an English teacher provides me with a different perspective: throughout the book, I felt like he was winking at me–helping me do my job better, for example, by placing the notoriously challenging Whitman poem “Leaves of Grass” at the center and making it seem accessible and even cool.

So, even though I’m no longer a huge YA fiction reader, I can appreciate John Green on multiple levels. The best part is that I think reading this book will make students good readers, so I’m glad to have this book under my belt to discuss it with them.

Now the real question, friends: has anyone seen the movie, and is it worth watching?

2. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller

This short treatise was the foundation of a book I read last year, Free of Me. The back cover describes it as “punchy,” which is accurate. Keller gets right to the point and makes it clearly and effectively. I’ll be rolling around a few sentences in my mind for weeks.

Here’s his main idea: “True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

This is a book you could feasibly read in an hour or two, and it’s worth it. It’s shifted how I view the “self-esteem” vibes that we give to our teenagers and how I view my own faith.

Well, that’s my January reads! I have some fun books on deck: some fiction, nonfiction, and just-for-fun books that I’ll report back on in February!

2017 In Review

Well, once again I find myself summarizing an entire year. This is the third year I’ll write a recap of my goals–though I’m publishing it a little late–and I’m glad to have a record of 2015 and 2016. Every year brings new and unexpected and wonderful things.

This year has been transformative in my life. In January 2017, I couldn’t have dreamed up what my life would look like in December 2017. Actually, if you asked me to describe my dream life, I’d have described something very close to what I did in 2017.

Some of the highlights:

  • I helped put on a conference at work (and learned a lot from the process).
  • I interviewed for (and was offered) three teaching jobs in California, and I accepted one.
  • I packed my life into my SUV and drove across the country with two of my best friends, making stops along the way like Chicago and Omaha.
  • My family visited Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
  • I moved to Fremont, CA to teach English to high schoolers.
  • I flew halfway around the world to Poznan, Poland to stand beside a dear friend as she married the perfect guy for her, and I walked through the fascinating city of Berlin, Germany.

Life is surprising, and suddenly everything is different. When I made my goals in 2017, I had no idea what was ahead!

2017 Goals

Rest well.

The Bible commands us to rest, and for good reason: taking a day each week to rest is crucial to our health and wellness. I began to take this seriously in 2016 and continued to reap the benefits in 2017 of one day per week of intentional rest mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I’ve continued that pattern in my teaching job, where it is even more important to resist the temptation to work nonstop and burn myself out. Rest gives me more energy and mental space to do well the rest of the week, and I want to always remember this.

Be strong.

When I landed a position as Jump Fit instructor for the local trampoline park (yeah, still the coolest job I’ve had), I began training for this new form of fitness and studying group fitness instructing, physiology, and the many components of leading people in exercise. I made some great friendships and had an amazing time. I continue to fight for fitness and health to be a constant staple in my life through running, cycling, and hiking, and I’ve established a pattern of eating that supplements a strong lifestyle.

Read books.

Last year, I set a personal goal to read a book every two weeks, or 26 books in total. I proudly crossed the finish line to 30 books this year, surpassing that goal.

2018 Goals

Keep reading books.

I am so glad that I documented the books I read this year. My memory isn’t strong, so I would have likely thought I didn’t get that much done without seeing it all listed.

This year, I plan to document the books month-to-month, and I want to read at least 30 books.

Delve into the work I’ve been given.

I’ve jumped into so many new places here in California: I joined the core leadership team at my church, Foundry, signed up to be the girls softball coach at my school, and continue to be committed to educating my students well at work. I’ve got plenty of meaningful things to do.

I don’t want to get distracted this year by shiny new opportunities, which is my tendency. This season of life is not a phase, a holding tank until I move on to the next thing. God has abundantly filled my plate, and He’s tasked me with managing the gifts I have right now for the foreseeable future, so I want to sink my heels in and work for the long haul. It’s less glamorous than exciting announcements and life changes, but it’s the kind of faithfulness and obedience that constitutes a well-lived life.

Well, it’s been an incredible year. Thank you, friends–old and new–for bearing with me. Let’s dig in this year!

2017 Books in Review.

Alternate Title: The Big Ol’ Book Roundup

A year ago on January 1, I resolved to read more books in 2017. A book every two weeks, to be specific.

Two years of reading like it was my job in grad school burned me out, and I needed a grace period to enjoy reading again. But largely due to many of these books, I’m refreshed and reminded why I’m a lifelong student of literature.

For accountability and my own record-keeping, I posted a picture of each book on Instagram under the hashtag #carissareads. I’m so glad I (finally) followed through on a resolution because it’s been endlessly fun to look back and reflect on what I’ve read.

Without further ado, here they are: my 2017 book collection. I recommend them all on varying levels (from “this will flip you inside out” to “I don’t hate it”).


If you want to read the book before you see the movie…

Wonder – RJ Palacio

Heartbreaking, heartwarming, will make you a kinder human being. (And make you want the same for your kids or students or neighbors or siblings.)

The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

Both the book and the movie will draw you in and rip out your heart. (So you should experience them.)

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

I still remember how I felt coming out of the movie theater several years ago after this film, and the book gave me that same feeling. It’s surreal and deeply human.

If you want to see a fresh vision for church, prayer and community…

Oikonomics – Mike Breen

I read this book right before meeting and hosting Mike Breen for a conference. This guy gets it and is moving the church in a good direction, and he’s got a great accent.

Falling Free – Shannan Martin

Another author who gets it and is passionate about being the person who sees the marginalized and going straight to them with courage and Christlike love.

Love Lives Here – Maria Goff

Sweet Maria is one of those women that you want to sip coffee with for hours and just listen. I loved her perspective on hospitality and faithfulness in small details, which beautifully complements the wildness of her husband Bob.

Whisper – Mark Batterson

All I knew about Mark Batterson before I joined his book launch team was that I’d visited his coffee shop in DC. This book was an interesting read to see his perspective on the important topic of hearing God’s voice.

If you want a casual, feel-good read…

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love celebrity memoirs. As a student of literature, I don’t think they belong in the same 50-mile radius as most serious books, but they’re super fun behind-the-scenes glimpses into celebrity lives, and I’m all the way in.

Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger and party planner in LA, so this book was a different kind of celebrity memoir. Again, I’m not inducting it into the hall of literary classics anytime soon, but it was fun to read anyway. (And I got it for free by being on her launch team, so no complaints. PS – It releases Feb. 6 and there’s preorder goodies.)

Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker is the fun aunt that everyone needs. I’ll keep reading every word she writes, whether it has profound ramifications for social justice and the Gospel or she’s telling a crazy story about her life. She also makes me laugh out loud in public.

If you want engaging, good fiction…

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

After that post-grad school slump, this was the book that reminded me why I love to read.

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

I could read Robinson’s books over and over for the rest of my years and never soak up all the beautiful insights on faith that she weaves into her stories.

The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson

Once I start his fiction, I cannot put it down. This is engaging, well-woven storytelling.

If you want to be inspired to live differently…

Let’s All Be Brave – Annie Downs

I love when I hear the right thing the right time. I read this book on my flight to California to interview for teaching jobs, and there’s no time when you need to be brave more than planning a cross-country move.

Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller

This book was perfectly timed too–while Don documented his cross-country road trip, I was on my own. The rest of the book is neat, but the Author’s Note of this book is the theme song to my Virginia-to-California transition.

(That 2-page section is in the Amazon book preview, so if you’re in a season of transition, go click on the book cover & scroll down to the section titled “Author’s Note.”)

Scary Close – Donald Miller

Okay, I went through a bit of a Don Miller phase this summer. And for good reason: his books challenge me and make me feel seen. Sometimes like an X-ray. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable. It’s fine, I’m fine.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

In the last few years, I’ve learned so much about sustainability in our food systems and the value of eating whole, clean, and responsibly. (Shoutout to Lynchburg Grows & Imperfect Produce.) So to read about how a family grew all their own food for a year and studied the state of food in America? A little piece of heaven.

If you want to learn from someone who leads by example…

Free of Me – Sharon Hodde Miller

This year, I learned about book launch teams and subsequently joined a million. (Okay, like 5 or 6.) This book was so easy to promote because the message is true and important for every person’s faith. I gifted it for Christmas, read a passage for a staff devotion, and reread several chapters. The book is awesome, Sharon is a fantastic leader, and I am a total fangirl.

Tramp for the Lord – Corrie Ten Boom

What a fierce little lady. This book is no-nonsense conviction from a woman who was tested and proved to be faithful.

The Sacrament of Happy – Lisa Harper

This author is the most joyful woman you could ever follow on Instagram, and her book sings the same tune.

Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller

Okay, one more book from my new best friend, Don. Everyone and their pastor’s mom read this book in like 2006, but when I read it in 2017 the timing was perfect, and it hit me square between the eyes.

Daring to Hope – Katie Davis Majors

Katie has lived about 100 lifetimes in her adult years in Uganda as a wife and mom of 14, and this book shows it.

If you want a well-loved classic…

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

The last time I read this book, I was a junior in high school, so I loved rereading it with my junior class. Even though my students struggled with the dialect, they also had some good, important conversations.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I skipped this book in high school, so when I was assigned to teach American Literature this year, I figured I couldn’t take the job in good conscience until I’d read it. I’m excited to read it again with my juniors this year.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Another classic that I skipped in school. What crazy person hired me as a high school English teacher, anyway? I somehow made it through life without hearing spoilers, so I was shocked, disturbed, and intrigued right alongside my 9th graders.

If you want a new perspective on a tough issue…

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

This novel drew me into a world I’d never been to before. It stares into the face of colonialism and family dynamics through a million poignant moments.

The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

Rereading this book was moving, and watching my 9th grade students study the topic of identity through these vignettes was an amazing experience.

Convicted – Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins

This is another tale of a white cop and a black man who’s wrongfully convicted, but instead of the anger and heartbreak and injustice we see too often on the news, they experience reconciliation. It’s a special story that gave me a sliver of hope.

Party of One – Joy Beth Smith

I loved that this book debunked so much of my weird upbringing in purity culture surrounded by messages on marriage but unsure what to do with myself in the meantime (or my whole life) besides “wait.” I’m glad JB had the courage to write it all down, and when the book comes out in February, I know it will help a lot of people.

Wow! What a random, fun collection of my 29 books from this year. I’m hopeful, expectant, and ready for more great works in 2018.

My new reading goal is to meet or beat 2017’s tally. What’s yours?

On the benefits of flying solo.

I tell myself a lot that I am not going to become one of those writers who only thinks and talks about “singleness” or calls myself a “single.” (As if I’m a slice of Kraft cheese, individually wrapped.) But lately, the Lord has taught me to rejoice in this season.

While having a spouse is a beautiful, God-honoring part of life, there are so many reasons to enjoy singleness.

Here’s my top ten reasons why being single is great:

I have the time and energy to focus on my career, my finances, my interests: working hard to pay off my debts, taking time to think and read, and spending time with many of the people I love.

I can’t even keep up with my own laundry. Why double it?

When I succeed at a new recipe, I get to eat all of it. And since cooking for one is too hard, I get to eat that awesome recipe all week long.


When a cooking experiment fails, I’m the only one choking down a dry, burnt, or salty plateful of food, with no one to explain myself to.

I packed my whole life into a CR-V and road-tripped across the country. In the process, I only had to consider one job change, one set of belongings, one mess of address change and DMV logistics, and one person’s values and opinions. 


I don’t have to share that bottle of wine I splurged on unless I feel like it. I usually don’t feel like it.


I have five pillows on my bed and they’re mine, all mine. 


No one is looking at my bank account to ask why I spent $27 on pizza for one. I like pizza, and I don’t like budgeting.

I don’t have to check with anyone before making oddball choices with my time: staying out until 2 am, going to bed at 7 pm, watching 1.5 hours of pregnancy announcement videos, or watching marathons of The Bachelorette.

Ultimately, singleness keeps me focused on the truth that there is something much greater to anticipate than earthly, temporal marriage:

“We are not just going to heaven, we’re heading for our wedding celebration and marriage to the Lamb of God, Jesus.” -Scotty Smith

What else would you add to this list, fellow Kraft cheese slices?