Everyday Life, Nonfiction, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Quest for Sustainability – Summer Reading 2018

A snapshot of my current reading pile on this mid-summer day made me realize that I have a pretty clear theme going on in this season:

Apparently I’m not gravitating towards titles with words like “revolutionize” or “begin” or even “new.” No za-za-zing or va-va-vroom hear, please! No, I’m checking books out that are about “ordinary” and “everyday” and “the middle.” Somewhat unconsciously, the theme of this summer has become the pursuit of sustainability. What good things can I do and keep doing? How can I keep doing the things I must and do them well while also keeping the joy and fun in life? This quest for sustainability is really uncool, very boring-sounding, but I’m drawn to it like a tired person is drawn to a plain white duvet and a familiar pillow. I’m weary of the fads, I’m figuring out some things about what doesn’t work, and I want to be faithful in the seemingly monotonous places in life. I don’t want to struggle along anymore in the everyday, ordinary parts of life. When the summer ends, I want to be ready for doing the school year well. I’m not itching for new– not a new house or a new career or even a new baby (and I treasure my babies) – I’m longing to get the house I currently have fit for a productive and full life, I’m settling into this homeschooling/homemaking/writing/so-much-more career, and I’m trying to squeeze every last snuggle and game of Uno out these four babies that are already here. So on that note, here’s what I’ve been reading this summer:

Everyday Holy is a collection of short devotionals, good for gently waking my brain up a bit in the morning. This is the third devotional I’ve read this year, which is…surprising. I used to dislike the idea of devotionals, but there are times when self-directed study gets hard…when you’re super busy or groggy from lack of sleep or simply a bit apathetic and you need a starting point to get you thinking in the right direction. I always appreciate Melanie Shankle’s blend of humor and honesty, and her constant grappling with the mundane, circumstantial elements of life that can numb us to the life believers are called to and graced with in Christ. My current morning reading practice is half a chapter of Proverbs (I spent the first six months of this year in Psalms and now I’m moving on!), a day or two from Everyday Holy, and a chapter of The Liturgy of the Ordinary or Give Them Grace. (Yes, I read a lot of books at once. No, I do not have ADD).

The Liturgy of the Ordinary is mostly about worship during the mundane chores and tasks we do each day. We fight in this culture against constant entertainment and a fear of the ordinary. Tish Harrison Warren explains in her book how she’s reconciling the ordinary with the sacred and coming to view them as not so separate after all. I liked parts of the book, though I don’t agree with all the author’s viewpoints. On finishing it, I’d give it 2.75 stars. I think I’m going to need to dig into The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris next, because this book quotes it often! My biggest yet most unimportant beef with  The Liturgy of the Ordinary Day is that the text is constantly interrupted with bold main points. Listen. I know this is a common practice in non-fiction publishing right now, but I hate it. I already read that sentence, and you’re interrupting my train of thought to read it again??? No. Put it off to the side in the margin if you must, but here’s a thought: maybe you should trust your readers to read the page of text and gather the main points on their own, intelligent selves? This may come as a shock, publishing world, but we are capable of drawing conclusions and recognizing the heart of the message. Thank you, rant over. (But don’t get me started on back and forth, present to future viewpoints in historical novels…gah! Hate it. (See, told you I don’t have ADD. What’s the opposite? Complete focus at the expense of all else? Tunnel vision? I have that)).

Now, onto the cookbooks! I may have mentioned three or three hundred times that meal planning and prep is the bane of my daily existence. This summer, I’m out to conquer my struggles by keeping simple meals on repeat. Usually what happens is I swing from an uber-healthy eating phase to an “I’m sick of all this food prep give me pizza” phase. I stay in the second phase for quite a while before swinging back, but I feel nagging guilt about it all the time, so I end up avoiding buying “unhealthy” foods because I know they’re poison but then I don’t have the energy or forethought to provide my family with healthy foods and my grocery shopping is all a muddle…and then the week is suddenly a disaster. No, I’m not being dramatic. That’s why I was drawn to Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook. Sustainability? Balance? Yes, please. I have yet to cook anything from it, but the Breakfast Egg Salad and Greek Yogurt Pancakes are on this week’s menu! I haven’t made it out of the breakfast section yet…the photos are beautiful. I have tried two recipes from Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites and they were winners, especially the Chicken and Rice Street Cart Style. Have I ever gotten chicken and rice from a street cart? No. But I will be making this recipe again and again.  One of the best parts of these two cookbooks is the authors are not just good cooks but excellent writers; I actually want to read all the text and introductions to each recipe. Not sure how I became a person who reads cookbooks (or a Goodreads friend whose shelves are cluttered with cookbooks…) but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the pursuit of sustainability, haha.

The Baker's SecretOn the fiction side of things, I haven’t been hitting the novels very hard. I love being outside in the summer, running around with the kids, doing house projects, swimming, so the cold winter months are really when I do the bulk of my reading. I did read The Baker’s Secret,  and really enjoyed it, though there were definitely depressing parts (war novel). If you like WWII historical fiction like The Plum Tree or The Nightingale, you’ll like this book. I also finally got Ronia, the Robber’s  Daughter off my to-read list, and mostly enjoyed it, though it was much darker than I was expecting. I won’t be reading it to my kids…it’s more of a YA book, in my opinion.

Now homeschool planning for the coming year is heavy on the brain, so my reading habits probably won’t pick up til September or October, but I’d love to hear what your summer reading is looking like! Happy summer! And head on over the Modernmrsdarcy.com to see more of what readers have been reading this summer on the QuickLit feature!

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

How The Small Things Become The Big Things

Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of living out a theme? Like all the messages you run into or the conversations you have come back to this one idea, even if you’re not trying to bring it up?

There’s an obstinate theme in my life right now, and the theme is this: the big things and the small things in life are not that different.

Or, more poetically speaking, the small and unseen minutes we live add up to the grand, sweeping, epic whole. Tiny thoughts, words, and actions are the grains of sand that make up the whole.

Image result for the painted desert

It’s a big thing to exercise. It’s a small thing to take a walk. It’s a big thing to be a friend. It’s a small thing to have a conversation. It’s a big thing to feed your kids for an entire childhood. It’s a small thing to make a comforting recipe on a weeknight. It’s a big thing to love someone with your whole heart. It’s a small thing to look straight into the eyes of your child when he’s telling you about the Transformer he’s pretending to be while you’re trying to cook dinner. The small and the big get blurry when we stare at them together.

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a LifeI didn’t know this big vs. small idea was the ground rock of Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up A Life, the newest release from NY Times Bestseller (and the writer of the first blog I ever followed) Melanie Shankle. I signed up to be on her book launch team almost blindly, because all her books are delightful and her blog in its early days spoke straight into my middle-of-the-night pacing with my firstborn and gave me the gift of humor with a shot of perspective. (Being on the book launch team just means I get to read the book early and review it, not that I’m paid or have any incentives for getting others to buy it or anything like that). Now, I can honestly say this is her best book yet, a perfect combination of funny and wise musings about the way a life lived in the small moments is a life worth living wholeheartedly. Better still, it fully forms the thoughts surfacing in my own life about purpose and faithfulness.

Shankle “had me at hello” when her introduction began with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch because she basically asks, “what about the boy’s mother who probably packed the lunch?” I love how she muses about what the mother could’ve been thinking that morning and how the last thing she would have expected was a miracle to come from that packed lunch. You probably know that feeling of doing something so minute as packing a lunch, you’re not even really thinking about it, or if you are, you’re wishing you had something better to give your kid and what is a Bento box anyway? Shankle’s position is that all those little moments of faithfulness are shaping you and shaping the people around you. How true. More often than not, it’s the ordinary faithfulness, the staying instead of going and the hidden jobs that have no platform, that make a person’s character.

It’s easy to resent the never ending meal prep, the staff meeting you are wishing yourself out of, the paperwork you just did, or whatever seemingly unimportant and repetitive task you wake up to day after day. We all feel that way. Here’s my favorite quote about this from the book:

Nothing is wasted when we view it through the lens of what God has for us in whatever life brings our way. It’s all part of who we are and who he is making us to be. For some, that may be a public role on a big stage, but for the vast majority of us, it’s about being faithful in the small stuff: going to the grocery store, volunteering in our kids’ classroom, befriending the new girl, coaching a Little League team, showing up for work every day, being kind to our neighbors.

We need to look for God in the ordinary, everyday things, to pursue our lives and live our dreams and be faithful in the small things, because those are the moments that prepare us for the next thing.

-Melanie Shankle, Church of the Small Things

Maybe we should stop questioning whether what we’re doing at this minute or this stage of our lives is important or worthy and simply, finally believe this: it is all important. To me, that’s so encouraging.

It’s all kind of like that story about the boy with the spool of thread. You know the one? The wise old woman gives Peter a spool of thread that represents the time of his life, and when he gets uncomfortable and wants to skip some part, he does, simply by un-spooling some of the thread. When he gets to the end of his life, and he’s only lived the parts he thought were enjoyable or momentous, who is he? He’s like a shell of a person with an empty life. He didn’t stick around for the crying baby, he couldn’t handle all the school lessons, he wasn’t into working so he skipped the work…yikes. I’m actually glad we can’t do that. But sometimes, we do it as best as we can without a spool of time-thread. I know I do. Distraction, ungratefulness, wishing for other circumstances, it all keeps us from being faithful in the little things.

I’m grateful for Church of the Small Things for finally nailing down the clarity I was seeking in this theme I keep coming back to: the small things become the big things and faithfulness is in every moment.

That is the serious side of the book. What might be even better, though, is that this book will make you laugh. It’s got some deep thoughts in it and that’s what stood out to me after I finished it, but oh, how good it was to laugh out loud while reading about Shankle’s experiences throughout her life. She focuses on stories about seemingly monotonous life experiences that became important, or stories about the people around her whose everyday faithfulness to loving those around them changed the lives around them, one everyday-day at a time, with a huge dose of humor injected in everything.

Church of the Small Things has encouraged me a great deal lately, even more than I anticipated it would. I’m thinking it could encourage many of us, (note: it is mostly geared toward women, though I do force my husband to let me read him particularly funny parts). If you’re thinking about grabbing up a copy, now is the time! There are some pretty cool pre-order bonuses you can get if you order before October 3rd.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope you are encouraged to look at your small moments as more valuable than you realize. As Melanie says, “Nothing is wasted.”

{Plug for future blog post – I’m working up the nerve to post some parenting related thoughts in the coming weeks. It’s been a long season of quiet on that front here at Miathereader.com. If you’re into that, could you comment here if any of these popular posts have resonated with you in the past or do now? Thank you so much, friends!

Put Down the Scissors

Loving the Littles Who Persecute Us

Surface Farming}

Nonfiction, Reviews

GraceLaced: A Review

I’ve never been more excited about anything bookish than I was when I got the email saying I had been chosen to review an advanced copy of Ruth Chou Simon‘s first book, GraceLaced. Her Instagram account alone gives me more sturdy truths than many a whole published book has, and I started admiring her philosophy as a mother when I heard her on The God Centered Mom podcast over two years ago. I knew her book was going to be chock full of goodness. I also knew it would be full of beautiful images, because Ruth Simons is an artist with an eye for the beauty of every day life.

The book came in the mail one hot July day, and I took in the whole title for the first time– GraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart. “Hmm,” I remember thinking, “I’m not sure that this is what I was expecting from this wise and very relevant artist-turned-writer.” I guess I thought a seasononal type devotional was an echo from an earlier Christianese era. I opened it up to begin and saw that the first season of the heart was Winter. “Winter. Weird. Why is this book starting with winter and releasing in the heat of summer?”

As I sunk into the pages morning by morning, I began to understand. The book had to start with “Winter: Resting in God’s Character” because people of God aren’t going to get anywhere in any season if they’re not rooted in who God is. After pulling readers into a place of better understanding God’s unchanging character with words and with paintings and photographs, Simons moves onto “Spring: Rehearsing Truth.” These truths move from who God is to who we are in Him. This part of the book is about removing the lies and the idols in our lives and replacing them with the truth of the gospel in our day-to-day.

From there, we go to Summer: Responding in Faith. The ideas in these devotional entries have a more action involved. For example, one is titled “Above” and addresses how we think. Another is titled “Cast” and deals with anxiety. It’s here that a person who has been around church would find the words that are usually loudest in our talk – what to do and what not to do. Too often, we put these kinds of words first, so that they are burdens for which we don’t feel strong enough. In this order, though, Simons has already refreshed us by presenting first God’s heart for us and our heart for Him. As I moved into the Summer portion of the book, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or tired out by the “we shoulds” at all but ready to respond to what had come before.

Finally, the Fall portion of the book is all about what God has given us. Light for our journey. Peace in Jesus. And after a time to focus on God and what He has made us to be and then what He has given us to do, it’s just about perfect that now we can revel in the ways He has provided for us. I started out thinking the whole seasons of the heart set up would be a little off-putting, and I ended up thinking it could not have been more perfect. I was drawn into true fellowship with God despite that young-mom feeling of being too tired and too pressed for time to fully engage in anything besides maybe a good cup of coffee.

Every one of these pages held goodness and I got so much out of the book as a whole. My very favorite one, though was the first entry titled “Dwell.” And not just because “dwell” is one of my favorite words ever. No, it’s because it piercingly addressed a lie I continue to believe almost every day. All of us have a tendency to take refuge in our surroundings, whether that be a special place on a beach or a comfortable chair in a room. Some of us take a little too much refuge in what are surroundings are like. The lie I fight believing every day is this: “I would be a happy person if only my home were clean.”

I know. It’s dumb. Seriously, that’s what you think you need to be happy?

I have operated that way as a default almost every day of my adult life. And it’s not just because as a stay-at-home/homeschool mom, one of the primary time takers in my life is keeping my domain in order. It goes even deeper than my resentment of the time I have to take from other pursuits to keep things (and people) clean. My default desire for cleanliness and orderliness tunnels back into how I have used keeping things orderly around me as a way to feel in control of life in general. I remember how when high school drama struck, I would always clean out my closet. As an adult with two kids, I was frantic about getting a contract on a specific house during a time when we briefly lived with my parents-in-law, so I dusted all their baseboards while waiting for phone calls from the realtor. When I’m at my mom’s and she’s not home, I try to express my thankfulness for all she does for me by vacuuming the corners of her living room. Wow. Maybe I should try flowers instead? Anyway, I’m not exactly a clean freak or neat freak (I mean, don’t come to my house to find sparkling kitchen counter tops or toothpaste-free sinks), but the cleanliness level that I decide is the one we need to reach takes a pretty hard hand over the rest of my life, and making dirty things clean gives me a ridiculous satisfaction. So you can imagine these words struck a pretty deep chord with me:

Any notion I have of finding comfort and satisfaction in the perfection of my surroundings has simply shown itself for what it is: an idol of the heart that can neither sustain nor deliver. A tidy home (and sometimes a calm and quiet environment) has often been my comfort–my shelter in the midst of crazy-messy seasons. It was never meant to be.

-Ruth Chou Simons

I really should have this taped on my bathroom mirror. Or better yet, the verse that the word “Dwell” comes from: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91: 1. If I could grab hold of that truth about God every morning, that He is my refuge and nothing else in this world is, how much different would my attitude be towards my work and my children? Much.

That and many other (much less domestic) golden truths were brought into my day-to-day life through the words and images of GraceLaced. I hope you run to get your own copy! Order your copy of GraceLaced wherever books are sold by August 31 and receive a free “You Don’t Have To Be Blooming To Be Growing” downloadable print when you register your purchase at gracelaced.com/gracelacedbook.}

Nonfiction, Reviews

Better Than Before: A Book Review

Here’s a non-fiction review for my non-frivolous book readers! Yesterday I finished Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before:  Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives. The popular author of The Happiness Project and Happier At Home once again brings readers an insightful book on her favorite topic, how to live this present life well.

Rubin starts off the book by claiming we can’t be successful in our habits without knowing our habit tendencies. I found this section of the book fascinating. She breaks these tendencies down into four groups:

  1. The Upholders – Sensitive to inner expectations for oneself and outer expectations of other people
  2. The Obliger – Very sensitive to others’ expectations, not as sensitive to one’s own expectations for one’s self
  3. The Questioner – Always questioning expectations, and has to make all expectations his or her own by evaluating and deciding whether they are reasonable and useful or not.
  4. The Rebel – Basically, this person hates expectations and has a hard time with habits.

Rubin, herself, is a strong Upholder, and finds it very easy to begin and maintain habits. I almost question why a person who finds habits so natural would write a book about harnessing the power of habits – can we learn anything from her struggle if there actually is no struggle for her? Then again, I suppose we can learn from the best, and she does an insane amount of research and includes anecdotes from other types of tendencies. (Side note: if you read the beginning part of this book and you classify yourself as a Rebel, good luck. You don’t want habits in your life, you enjoy making each decision you make, and having the freedom to decide yes or no to most everything you do each day. Habits are not your thing. And probably neither is this book).

After doing a little self exploration, Rubin decides to tackle the seven areas in which people most commonly want to improve their habits: Healthy eating, Exercise, Finances, Rest and Relaxation, Accomplishments, Clutter, and Relationships. As is her wont, Rubin sets up a specific goal for herself in each of these areas and writes about the results. This is the part where the book gets a little less interesting to me, because I already know she is going to do a great job of creating new habits. She is going to nail this. But would I?

I read this book at a great time to improve my habits, when my youngest recently turned a year old and I had the mental fortitude to improve some areas of my life that were just scraping by one sleep deprived day after another. I didn’t want to grab the whole project by the horns like Rubin did; I thought I would pick just a few areas to work on: getting up earlier and eating healthier.

So far, I have failed miserably. For about a week, I did great, but then it all fell apart. I still get woken up often at night by one of the three kids, if not all, and I still can’t seem to get a meal plan together that is consistently healthy. Snacks are a whole ‘nother battle. The upside of this experiment is that I did feel exceedingly better when I did a good job of getting up early and putting healthy food on the table. I’m excited to continue my attempts at improving my habits in these areas.

Overall, I liked this book. I find that Rubin’s books can bring me some ideas and get me thinking, but when I finish them, there’s a sense of emptiness for me.  They lack the overall purpose of life in their theories. I don’t want to be so inwardly focused on living my life well. I want to love God and love others.  Also, as a middle class American in the suburbs, her upper-middle class New York City lifestyle is very hard for me to relate to. However, if you’re interested in using the practice of habits for to empower your daily routines, I think this is a great book for you.

Now, if only Gretchen Rubin would write a book about helping kids form good habits…

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

Love Books: Read This, Not That

Any book worth its salt has some love in it. Friendship, romantic love, sacrificial love, usually self-love whether glorified or not…humans are made to love and they will love something or someone as a default. In the last week, the two books I read actually had “love” in the title, but they were as different as night and day.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio is classified as literary fiction, but it’s really not. The only The Look of Loveliterary thing about it is the premise. It had potential, in an O’Henry kind of way, but it falls severely short of the mark of good literature.  And it doesn’t make me happy to say that because I loved Jio’s The Violets of March and enjoyed several of her other books. The Look of Love isn’t anywhere close to Jio’s best work. The book’s main character, Jane, has a gift: she can see true love. She’s just figuring out that she has this gift at age 29, and she also learns that she has to identify the six forms of love before her 30th birthday or she will never find true love herself.

Here’s where you start thinking, “Wuv. Twue Wove.” (Books and movies come and go, but The Princess Bride never fails). The definition of true love and the six types of love Jane defines are not love. They are chemistry, lust, the kind of stuff from songs like “Hooked On A Feeling.” In Jio’s book. people can have love and then just fall out of it, find it somewhere else, and it’s all mystical and inexplicable.  I understand that elements of romantic love are kind of inexplicable, but love has reasons and choices and true love is selfless.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary WorldEnter the next book of the week with love in the title: Love Does. Bob Goff writes in memoir style about the kind of love that has transformed his life. The whole idea is real love doesn’t just feel or talk but it does stuff. It is action. It is being with people or giving to people, believing in people and telling them you’re for them. Real, perfect love is loving like Jesus. Now, before you roll your eyes, make sure you’re thinking about Jesus here and not the people who claim to follow Him. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, met some amazing and incredibly loving followers of Jesus, but I’ve still never seen anyone come close to Jesus. No one can love the unlovable like Jesus. And we’re all unlovable in some way. But Goff tells stories with humor and intelligence and, his favorite word, “whimsy” about how he has experienced love in his life. For example, when he was in high school, he decided to drop out and move to Yosemite. He packed his car, headed out of town, but stopped by a mentor’s house on the way to say goodbye. And this mentor answered the door in the early morning, and a few minutes later, was in the car with Goff, going on his journey not as a chaperon or a parent figure, but a loving friend who still let Goff hold the reigns but said, “I’m with you, Bob.” These and other stories will blows to bits the love presented in pop culture. Love Does is a challenge to trade in the watered down sensation of love in our movies and books for love that is soul satisfying and deeply changing. This book is also just a plain fun read and if nothing else you will laugh (Thanks to my friend, Mary, for lending it to me!).

So if you’re looking for some summer book love, read this, not that. And feel free to chime in with the books you think give a good picture of real love.

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

What I Read This Fall

There are four more days left in this Autumn season, and I can guarantee you my Fall Reading List will not be completed in those five days. But that’s okay! A reading list is a starting point that morphs as time goes along. As Juliet says in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive–all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

Well, maybe there are other reasons to read. But I find the first part to be true when it comes to reading lists. I start at the top, but get totally sidetracked when I find a new favorite author or read a book that refers to another book. That being said, here is what I did manage to read this Fall:

~Fiction~

Gilead – You must read it. Best book I’ve read in a long time!

Rosie – Not a fan of this one, but I plan to try some more recent work of Lamott’s.

The Grapes of Wrath – Very raw and uncouth, and also deep and masterful. Just not my cup of tea.

The Signature of All Things – Abandoned halfway through. Eesh. If you liked it, I think we can still be friends, but let’s not talk about this book.

Listening ValleyListening Valley – This wasn’t on my list, but I needed a comfortable, reassuring read after three book busts, so I turned to my beloved D.E. Stevenson. This is a cozy sort of book to curl up with on a foul weather day. Fans of L.M. Montgomery or Jan Karon will love it.

Lila – I read this book on the heels of Gilead, and it was so totally different from what I expected! It was awesome, though. It will have its own review soon.

~Nonfiction~

Shepherding a Child’s Heart – I really enjoyed the perspective of the first half of the book, but didn’t get much out of the second half that dealt with the method this particular author employs in child rearing.

For The Children’s Sake – I loved this book. It will receive its own review soon.

The Fitting Room – This was a much lighter read than I expected, but still pretty good.  Women of all ages can glean great wisdom from it, but it would be especially perfect to study with a group of teenage girls.

Yes PleaseOrganized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional LivingI am not funny enough to appreciate this book. If you like SNL or Tina Fey’s Bossypants, you might like this one. However, I would venture to say that Poehler just isn’t a writer. She even admits in the book that she is “better in the room.” I concur.

Bread and WineA stunning book. It’s changing my entire view of hospitality. I say “changing” because I read it through and reviewed it, but I keep going back to read parts and review the recipes. I’ve made two and they were both delightful.

Organized Simplicity – I think I’ll need to come back to this book in the future, when I can handle all the very useful checklists and strategies. Right now, I just need to get through the mess that is the Holidays. It’s the best possible kind of mess! But a mess still.

Wow. I read more nonfiction than fiction in the last few months. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a first! I feel so smart and boring. Maybe I can remedy that in my Winter Reading List.

Speaking of, The Winter Reading List is shaping up and will be posted soon! What’s on your list?

Nonfiction, Reading

Fall 2014 Reading List

My Fall Reading List is formed! I’ve tried to supplement my summer reading with some weightier books. Chances are good I will add to this list as the weeks go by, but these are the books I would really like to read.

Fiction

Gilead, Marilyn Robinson

Lilith, George MacDonald

Long Man, Amy Greene

Rosie, Ann Lamott

Peace Like A River, Lief Enger

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

No Name, Wilkie Collins

Nonfiction

For The Sake of The Children, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Bringing Up Boys, Dobson

Shepherding A Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp

The Fitting Room, Kelly Minter

To Persia, With Love, Doreen Corley

Beyond Ourselves, Catherine Marshall

Educating the Wholehearted Child, Clay Clarkson

As always, this list is subject to change. In fact, I guarantee it will change.  Unless I know it’s important that I read a certain book, I am not afraid to call a book not worth the time and quit in the middle. I realize some folks can’t handle abandoning a book, but I need that freedom or else I wouldn’t even try half the books I actually come to like.

So what’s on your list this Fall?

Grammar note: I realize you’re not technically supposed to capitalize the names of seasons. I just can’t help it. 

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

Sharing Darkness and Shedding Light

I’ve been thinking a lot about memoirs lately. Memoirs, by definition, are simply an account of personal experience. And they are growing in popularity. Some memoirs share little known worlds, such as Frank McCourt’s Irish village in Angela’s Ashes, which was published in the 1990s and opened the flood gates for the waves of memoirs we see now. (If you’re wondering what the difference is between a memoir and an autobiography, they can be exactly the same. However, a memoir can also focus on just one aspect or phase in a person’s life). Some share unique perspectives on common life experiences, like mothering or losing a lot of weight. Some are funny, some are tragic. Actually, a lot of them are tragic.

The Glass CastleJeanette Walls started her illustrious writing career with the internationally bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle. It tells of the author’s eccentric and often negligent parents and her experiences with them. If you haven’t read it, it’s well written and quite fascinating… but I’m not sure why. I’m not sure why the memoir genre is so strong. Why is reading about a four-year-old girl who cooks her own hot dogs addicting? Of the top five nonfiction books on the NY Times Best Sellers list this week, three are memoirs. And I’m only feeding the frenzy–I’ve read more memoirs in the last couple of years than I had in the previous years of my life combined. But I’m starting to wonder: why? It may be inspiring to see a victim of abusive parents rise above and become a resilient person. I sure learned a lot about Irish poverty in Angela’s Ashes. Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do with the knowledge memoirs give me.  Yesterday, I finished The Silver Star, Jeanette Walls’s second novel. It was not a memoir, but it read like one and had many similarities to Walls’s own memoir. Knowing the past Walls came from as she wrote the book, this quote stands out to me:

“‘Don’t be afraid of your dark places,’ Mom told her. ‘If you can shine light on them, you’ll find treasure there.”

This idea that there is treasure in the blackest circumstances, that strength can be built into people as they struggle, that hardships are creating perfection, is a pretty darn old idea. In fact, it’s in the Bible. But I don’t think Walls was making a biblical reference. I think she was summarizing what the rush for memoirs is all about: people want something good to come out of the bad in life. Even if it’s just by reading a memoir that proves the human spirit can overcome, people have an innate desire for their experiences to be meaningful, or at least shared. Memoirs can do that. They can make the writer feel like they’re encouraging people, or bringing to light a neglected topic. Memoirs can be good.  I know there is value in honesty, shared experiences, and exposing ongoing injustices. I’ve been confused by why people are drawn to these hard stories, why I’m reading them, but I’ve come to this: I like to think that reading memoirs about hard times helps me when I find myself in a position that requires me to simply sit with someone else in the dark times and understand their need to share it with someone.

So by reading certain memoirs and just experiencing life, we know there is darkness all around and memoirs are often honest accounts of real life that can be enriching or informative. However…as I read memoirs, I start to appreciate more and more those authors that pushed away the darkness and chose to shed light. The truth is there are few authors (or people) who don’t have dark experiences lurking in their pasts. There are certain authors whose work has been so central to my development as a person since childhood, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, #1)they’re almost like patron saints in my life. (I’m not Catholic- just go with me on this). People like Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. These writers wrote beautiful, rich, original works that are full of the joy of living and the magic in every day imagination. I knew their works through and through long before I learned about their lives. I was in shock when I grew up and learned that they lived stories not at all like the books they wrote. Most literature fans know Jane Austen was a poor spinster who never married, and lived under the thumb of her father. Louisa May Alcott could have written a riveting account of her eccentric father’s spartan style of living and raising children. Alcott was poor for most of her life, and at one point as an adult considered suicide. C.S. Lewis’s mother died when he was a child, he had a distant father and grew up in boarding schools, and when he finally found love in life, it was through terminal illness. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s father died when she was three and her family moved around England until they finally left for Tennessee when Burnett was age 15. During their move, Burnett’s usually sympathetic and loving mother made Burnett burn her early writings. And, most disheartening of all to me, L.M. Montgomery struggled with depression and had a mostly loveless marriage.

These authors could have chosen to write some very shocking accounts of the brutal reality in this world. But what did they choose to write? They wrote books filled with light. How did these people decide to push aside the darkness around them and bring light through their works? Are we to think that they were just extremely dishonest? That they cause their readers to lose their grip on reality? You’re entitled to that opinion if you want it, but I am extremely thankful that they created exquisite characters and settings. They wrote about older folks who adopt orphans, sisters who are best friends, friendships that turn into pure love, and a Lion who is not safe but good. Maybe their worlds are more fantastic than rFeal, but I don’t think so. I think they chose to focus on the good things. Their books put me in a frame of mind to seek out loveliness in life. God created beauty in this world, and authors can bring that to readers’ attention through words.

There is always beauty and ugliness coexisting here. We can ignore the ugly, but we shouldn’t belittle the beauty or scoff at it as if it’s not real. It is real. Sometimes the beauty and the ugly are so tangled, it’s hard to really see. The memoirs I’ve been reading lately do a lot of focusing on the ugly. That can tend to get me down. I’m learning to be thankful for the reminder to share in someone’s darkness and help him or her through hard times, but to keep striving to stand in the light.  Some memoirs make it easy to wade around over and over again in our deep and murky waters. Other books are the literary equivalent of  keeping the lights on all night and shying away from any trace of shadow. As readers, we are able to take in both kinds of books and all the ones in between. We read, and we are able to see both the beauty and pain, light and darkness, funny and tragic, and accept that it is all real and present around us.

Acknowledge the darkness, but shed light. That’s what memoirs and are teaching me.

Read any good memoirs lately? Here are the ones I’ve liked in the last couple of years:

One Thousand Gifts – Awesome book for everyone. Five stars, and then five more.

Kisses from KatieHighly recommend if you want to change the world, or if you enjoyed Three Cups of Tea

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess – a real life changer for me

Sparkly Green EarringsLighthearted, laugh out loud mom-memoir with some deep thoughts mixed in

DesperateSo good for mothers of young children

Surprised by OxfordTold by an atheist intellectual who found Jesus when she didn’t want to

The Hiding Place – Timeless

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – Just girly and funny

 

31 Days, Children's Books, Nonfiction, Reading

Stretching 31 Days Into Forever

Our 31 Days of Picture Books have come to an end. Honestly, I thought posting every day would be more of a challenge, but this topic has been one that I live in every day. While there have been some days when I felt like I didn’t have time to write, it turns out I did have time to write at least something. I hope you’ve been able to add some good books to your reading lists for young children, and maybe even add to your knowledge of the value of reading with children.

Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through StoriesThere are some great resources written by actual experts (not just some blogger like me). My current favorite is Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, by William Kilpatrick and Gregory and Suzanna M. Wolfe. While this title may sound a bit preachy, it’s actually a great place to find books for young people of any stage. It has a list of picture books for young readers and then lists of different genres that are divided by reading level. Every time I look at this book to find good picture books for my family, I find myself turning to the older readers section and adding new books to my own reading list. I highly recommend this book.

Honey for a Child's Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family LifeHoney for A Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt is on my to-read list. It focuses on books for children 0-12. I’ve only skimmed it, but I can tell you that there are many illustrations and that Hunt’s reading tastes are broader than Kilpatrick, et al’s. Hunt includes classics as well as more modern books on her reading lists. As I haven’t read over the lists in detail, I can’t tell you if I agree with them as much as I do with the lists in Books That Build Character. I will still be giving these books a try, and hoping some of them are short enough for very young listeners. Many of the books listed in Books That Build Character are more for ages five and up.

And since I’m planning on homeschooling my children when they reach school age, I’ll definitely be Books to Build On: A Grade-By-Grade Resource Guide for Parents and Teachersreading Books to Build On: A Grade By Grade Resource Guide For Parents and Teachers. I don’t buy into the core curriculum idea–that every child should be taught the same thing decided by the government–but the idea for core knowledge stems from a sensible thought that there are just some things everyone needs to know. One of the reasons we choose to start out homeschooling is because we know all children are different: some children will enjoy math, some children will want to spend lots of time on music, and we will have the freedom to develop their areas of interest and talents. We will still want to make sure their minds are grasping concepts in all areas of education, and I think this book will help me think of ways to focus on subjects that aren’t my children’s favorite (or maybe not my favorite, either! I’m looking at you, Math.).

These are some books I plan to use as tools now and in the coming years, but mostly, I’m going to keep letting my children pick out some of their own books and indulging their developing tastes and interests. Reading is pure fun right now, and I want to keep the fun in it for our whole lives. I’ve seen parent-directed reading bring joy and build relationships, and I’ve seen it squash any interest in books. I’m hoping my style of reading with my children brings joy.

Thanks for joining me for 31 Days of Picture Books. I plan to continue reviewing picture books and mixing them in with my regular reviews on this blog. The words and the images of picture books have taught me so much over the years. It took this 31 Days topic to make me fully realize how much impact reading in the early years had on my mind. I’m encouraged to keep reading, and I hope you are, too.

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

October Reading

Apparently, I haven’t taken my own good advice lately, because what I’ve read in the past month has equaled not much. My blogging time has been taken up with the 31 Days of Picture Books and I’ve had a blast with it. I have managed to squeeze in a few adult reads, though.

The Silver StarAt the beginning of the month I  read The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls. This novel was an interesting combination of To Kill A Mockingbird and The Glass Castle, Walls’s first book, a bestselling memoir. Here’s the plot summary of The Silver Star from goodreads.com:

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister—inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.

Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.

The Silver Star reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird because of two child characters, Bean and her cousin, and because of the unfairness of the small town’s judicial system. Though the issues brought up don’t have much to do with race, they have a lot to do with gender and social status equality. I enjoyed the characters, though I thought them a bit to reminiscent of the main characters in The Glass Castle. The book also had that run down mill town feel that is so poignantly portrayed in Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. It’s as if you get a peek into what Empire Falls looked like before everything shut down. Walls does a good job of drawing a reader into her writing by putting flesh on her characters. However, this book was my least favorite of hers because the plot was a tad too predictable. Still, I read it cover to cover in three days and I think most people who like Walls’s work will enjoy The Silver Star.

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and RedemptionI also read Kisses From Katie as part of my 7 Challenge to learn more about poverty stricken countries. Katie Davis writes about her experiences as a very young woman who goes to Uganda for a few months after graduating from high school and cannot see herself staying away ever again. The book is both heartbreaking and heart-swelling. It’s heartbreaking to not just suspect or vaguely hear about Ugandans’ hardships but to really know what life is like for them. It’s important to know, but it’s heartbreaking.  It is heart-swelling to see that one young woman can make so much of a difference if she will stop saying “someone else” and start saying “Me. I will love one person and one more person and bandage one person and one more person and do what I can. Even if it’s never enough, I will do what I can because that’s all I can do and that’s what I must do.” (paraphrase). You must read it, not as a fine piece of literature, but as a bolster for your belief in what one person (read: you) can change if you try. I am so challenged and changed by this book.

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1)Finally, I just finished the Young Adult favorite, Alanna: The First AdventureThis book was written in 1983 by Tamora Pierce, but somehow it didn’t show up on my wide book radar until I started this blog and saw it on so many Top Ten Tuesday lists. I quickly learned that Alanna is a favorite heroine of many book loving girls. And since my real life name is only one letter away from Alanna, I had to read it for myself. (If your curious about why I go by Mia on this blog, check out the About Me page). I put it on my to-read list and then October came. October is historically a month when I crave a good fantasy adventure book. Last October, I discovered The Hero and The Crown and thoroughly enjoyed it. The year before that, it was Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. I think I can trace this feeling that Fall means fantasy adventure books back to when I read the Lord of The Rings trilogy in the fall lo those many years ago. But that would be way to nerdy to admit. Anyway, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t love Alanna. I liked it okay, but I’m afraid I missed the boat when I was twelve or thirteen that would have sailed me into Tamora Pierce fandom. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be reading the rest of the series! Because it’s October, and adventurous fantasy stories are akin to October (write that down).

Now I’m reading Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinSo far, it’s much grimmer than I thought it would be. We all know how the fairy tale ends, so I’m hoping there’s some kind of twist that will make this poor boy Rump into a hero after all. Rumpelstiltskin as a character has always unnerved me. I think the writing style of Liesl Shurtlief is very similar to Shannon Hale’s–pointed and carries the story along at a good pace–but I wish it were a wee bit more descriptive. I’m interested to see how the author weaves the brief mentions of other fairy tales into Rumpelstiltskin’s story. Expect a full review soon.

How’s your October reading going?