See that green thing? It’s an ivy plant — the one and only living green thing in our house. I don’t do plants. They give me anxiety. Yet another thing to take care of. But this guy refuses to die despite my abuse. I do better with books. Here’s what has been on the shelf in September.
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport — I heard the author of this book on a podcast and was intrigued. He said that people are losing their ability to spend extended periods of time on focused activity. Constantly responding to distractions is reprogramming our brains and robbing us of our capacity for deep work. Newport offers four startling rules to recover from this malady. I’m not going to list them, because then you might not want to read the book. I have implemented one tip: instead of planning my periods of focused work and filling up every other space with distractions (email, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), I schedule my time on social media (half hour in the morning and half hour in the late afternoon) and stay away the rest of the day. I dare you to try it.
- Giants in the Earth, by O. E. Rolvaag — I read this book as a senior in high school. When picking out a read-aloud for PB and myself, I thought this would fit the bill. It’s about Norwegians homesteading in South Dakota in the 1800s. It’s a lot longer than I remembered. After renewing the book twice, I still had to photocopy the last 30 pages so we could finish it. My Norski husband would have been just fine out on the prairie, living in a sod house. I might have gone off the deep end, just like the wife in Rolvaag’s story.
- A Place in Time, by Wendell Berry — Reading this was bittersweet as it is the last title from the pile of the Port William series of books I got for Christmas. I expect to read these again someday. After spending ten months living in the pages of 11 books, the characters are like family. Wendell Berry has renewed in me the love of story.
- The Complete Book of Home Organization, by Toni Hammersley — This book was a feast for the eyes with so many beautiful pictures. I stuck post-it notes on all the pages that had ideas I liked. Then I took off all the post-it notes and returned the book to the library. Sigh. That’s what people used to do before Pinterest.
“I do not want to just read books;
I want to climb inside them and live there.”
One of life’s greatest pleasures is reading outside on a nice summer day. Soon I’ll be taking my reading indoors by a fireplace, which is another one of life’s greatest pleasures. Gosh, there are lots of pleasures in this life. Here’s what has been on the shelf this month:
- The Attentive Life, by Leighton Ford — This book is meant for slow, contemplative digesting. It asks the question, “Why is it important to pay attention?” Then the author walks through different seasons of life using the ancient “prayer hours” from morning to evening. His call to attentiveness helped me ask the questions, “Am I paying attention to what God is doing?” and “Lord, what am I missing?”
- Circuit Chautauqua, by John E. Tapia — I read this book strictly for the sake of research. PB saw me reading it one day and asked, “Do you think I would like that book?” To which I answered, “This book would bore you out of your skull.” DO NOT READ THIS BOOK, unless you had a relative who performed in the 1920s on the Chautauqua tour. If you are wondering, “What is Chautauqua?”, just never mind.
- Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive, by Howard Hendricks — I loved this. Hendricks writes with the perfect mix of humor, conviction and practical suggestions. I underlined the dickens out of this volume, which is filled with quips like, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks — which is true if you’re teaching dogs, and if you’re teaching tricks. But you and I are not in the business of either one. We’re teaching people, and we’re teaching truth.”
- A World Lost, by Wendell Berry — I’m almost done reading the Port Williams Series with only one title left now. I’m putting off reading it because I don’t want my time with these characters to end. This story is about the passing of time and the power of memory. Although it has a melancholy feel, Berry tells the story with gentleness.
- If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland — The big word there is “If”. After being quiet all summer, I know for sure that I do, I do, I do want to write. Some much needed inspiration was in this book to help me kick off the fall and kick me in the pants.
What’s your favorite season for reading?
Summer on the porch, or winter by the fire?
I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from the writing life this summer. But the reading life is alive and well. Here’s what’s been on the shelf in July.
- East of Eden, by John Steinbeck — I wanted to read a classic this summer, so when my son-in-law said he was going to read “East of Eden”, I decided to join him. The story is loosely based on the Cain and Abel account in Genesis, following several generations of a family in the Salinas Valley in California. I loved sinking into the 600 page saga and am still thinking about the characters a month later.
- Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, by John Steinbeck — The reading of Steinbeck’s classic was wonderfully enhanced by pairing it up with this book. Every day before starting to write, Steinbeck would warm up by writing a letter to his editor. On the left-hand pages of the notebook, he would jot his thoughts about the storyline and about his life; on the right side of the notebook, he wrote his novel. It was a fascinating look at the process of writing and how a great novel works itself onto the page. Steinbeck also regularly expressed concern for his two young boys, which was endearing.
- Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke — I picked up this little volume because I’ve seen Rilke quoted so many times in other books. I found most of those memorable sayings in the first six pages, but finished the rest of it in an afternoon.
- Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman — This is a series of essays about Fadiman’s love of books and reading. I especially related to the story about the author’s mother who proof-read her local newspaper, marked all the errors in red and sent a boxful of clippings to the newspaper office. I, too, am a compulsive proof-reader who thinks I’m helping when pointing out grammatical mistakes on billboards and menus.
- A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry — I don’t read much poetry, but because it’s Wendell Berry, I had to give it a try. I’ve been reading a few poems every Sunday morning since January and just finished this book in July. It’s nice to let a book linger once in a while. Poetry seems especially made for long, slow contemplating.
What are you hoping to read before summer has flown?
Last month’s pile of books is on the dash board of our car, since that is where most of my reading took place in June. Road trips are perfect for tearing through the “Books to Read” list. PB and I spent many happy hours listening to audio books in North Dakota. Here’s what was on the bookshelf, and Ipod, this month.
- As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes — If I had a nickel for every time one of our kids said, “Marr-widge…”, I’d have a tower of five cent pieces. This was an entertaining audio because all of the actors from “The Princess Bride” chimed in with this recounting of what happened behind the scenes in the filming. Cary Elwes was charming as the main narrator.
- Andy Catlett: Early Travels, by Wendell Berry — I checked off another Berry book in my quest to read the entire Port Williams series in 2017. It did not disappoint.
- Get Up!: The Art of Perseverance, by Andy Greenberg and Ben Biddick — This book has a special place in my heart because Ben is my nephew. But I would have read it even if his name wasn’t on the cover. Incredible story. Adam Greenberg was hit in the head with a pitch in his first Major League at-bat. This guy never gave up. Very inspirational!
- Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin — This audio version was read by Steve Martin himself. In this book he shared how he spent 10 years honing his craft before becoming a “success,” and what he learned through the ups and downs of his famous career. (Language alert)
- The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art, by Edwin McManus — I read this one extra fast because it ended up in my mailbox, but it wasn’t really for me. I raced through it before handing it off to the intended recipient. I think it was good, but it’s kind of a blur.
- The Get Away Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, by Ann Patchett and The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life, by Marion Roach Smith
At the beginning of every summer I like to read a few books on writing and life, so these two titles obviously fit the bill. Then, I tell myself to stop reading books on writing, and just write.
- The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood — This book gets the prize for being the only one on the list without a subtitle. I listened to the audio version read by Chris Cuilla, a master at giving every character just the right voice, from the 104-year-old Lithuanian woman to the 11-year-old Boy Scout. It’s a heartwarming, funny, sad, hopeful story. I’m still smiling about the ending. (Language alert)
What are you reading this summer?
Here’s what was on the bookshelf last June:
Wednesday Words: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Wednesday Words: The Closer
One measly book read in May.
Measly: contemptibly small, meager, or slight;
wretchedly bad or unsatisfactory.
Here’s the deal — I started to read six other books last month
and abandoned them all.
Some were ditched by page four, but I hung in there with one book until page 150.
Just couldn’t take it.
These things happen.
“There comes a time
when you have to choose between
turning the page
and closing the book.”
I closed six books and added the titles to my
“Tried and Found Wanting” list.
So, in my despair, I did what any dedicated reader would do —
I picked up Wendell Berry to restore my soul,
and my faith in a good story.
Here is the stack of books I read in April. My grandpa made that little stool for me when I was little. It still makes me feel special as I imagine him hammering in all those tiny nails.
- The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry — Old Jack Beechum is a Port Williams pillar, the oldest one left of his generation. His story is told through his memories, which become more real as he gets closer to crossing over to Jordan. His crusty exterior is explained by the disappointments in his life, but his tender heart keeps breaking through, making him one of Berry’s most endearing characters.
- The Art of Neighboring, by Jay Pathek and Dave Runyon — The authors are pastors in Denver, Colorado, who asked their mayor, “What can we do to help our city flourish?” He responded, “The majority of issues that our community is facing would be drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” Huh. Sounds kinda like Jesus. You know, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Sometimes you need to hear it from the mayor. What if Jesus meant to actually love the people who live right around us?
- 40 Days of Decrease, by Alicia Britt Chole — This book was a Lent devotional that I picked up on a whim and, boy, am I ever glad I did. It was deep and profound and made Lent extra meaningful. I will pull this one out again next year.
- A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman — I’ve seen this title on several recommended reading lists, so when I noticed the book on the “7 day checkout” shelf at my public library one Thursday, I decided to see if I could conquer the deadline. It was a hefty 337 pages; I finished it on Saturday. It was light and easy, but I didn’t stop once to copy out something worth remembering.
- Unoffendable, by Brant Hansen — I had this on my Lit List in February, but I read it out loud to PB in March and April. Don’t be surprised if you see it again in May or June. It’s that kind of book.
- 24/6, by Matthew Sleeth, M.D. — I started this book last fall, got derailed, and picked it back up in April. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” is the only commandment that begins with “remember”, as if God knew we would forget. And it seems we have. Dr. Sleeth points out that stopping and resting are part of God’s design for people to live well. I needed that reminder.
A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend.
Lots of cold and rainy days in March made for good chunks of reading time. Here’s what was on the shelf in March:
- A Place on Earth, by Wendell Berry — My love affair with Port Williams and all its endearing characters continues. Heart-wrenching stories are perfectly woven in the lives of people who seem so real, I find myself thinking about them, wondering how they are doing. Berry’s characters remind me of the good farm folks I grew up around — people who worked and lived “with the good earth all around.”
- From Tablet to Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed, by Leonard Sweet — This book is a call to bring back the table. Sweet issues a challenge to move away from tablets and iphones and “social” media and bring some actual people into our homes for an actual meal around an actual table. His insight into the many conversations Jesus had at mealtimes was an eye opener. I’ll be using some of Sweet’s material for our Spring Women’s Bible Study. (Kindle version)
- Farm Recipes and Food Secrets From the Norske Nook, by Helen Myhre — Yes, this is a cookbook and it’s full of recipes that I didn’t read word for word. But if there was ever a fun-to-read cookbook, this is it. I felt like I was 10 years old, sitting at my neighbor’s house one farm over, listening to my 4-H leader give a cooking lesson. Myhre has a down-home way of making everything sound simple and deliciously funny.
- The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile — This is the latest take on the ancient personality type system called the Enneagram. Unlike some other, more academic publications, this one is approachable and easy to understand. I like this book because they emphasize how a level of self- awareness opens up intimacy with God.
- Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, by Dani Shapiro — I keep telling myself to stop reading books about writing so I have more time to write, but then I hear somebody recommend a book like this on some podcast and before I know it, I’m putting the title on hold. Shapiro had some good points, but they are the same good points that I’ve read in twenty other books on writing. I should write a book called Still Reading: The Perils and Pleasures of Reading About Other Peoples’ Creative Lives.
Whatcha been reading? Any good recommendations are welcome!
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler