Reading and Listening – November 2020

October was a busy month. My son got married in another state, which required planning, travelling, and quarantining afterward. Then, a few days ago, I was in charge of a virtual conference that has taken a lot of time and work this past month to plan and coordinate all the moving parts.

Added to those two big things, a third big event was the reopening of library access to the public, which requires a lot more time in the library branches. I’m so happy to see and help our community again in person, albeit masked and socially distanced.

However, I have still carved out to read and listen to various articles and podcasts. Here are some of my favorites:

Reading:

Feed the Better Hunger – I used to tell my boys that taking in too much “junk food of the mind” is as bad for your brain as eating too much junk food is for your body. Glenna Marshall writes about what we should be hungering for in this article. We need to intentionally learn to love what is good for us and this article points us in the right direction.

6 Tips to Help You Tackle the Classic Novel – Anne Bogel gives six great ideas on how to read that classic from high school that you skipped. I 100% agree about trying it on audio. I finally managed to read Moby Dick several years ago by listening to the audio, and Heart of Darkness was much more manageable when read by Kenneth Branagh.

Your Devotional is Not Your Bible – As usual, Jen Wilkin encourages the reading and study of God’s Word over everything else: “Devotional writing, when done with excellence, may supplement our time in the Scriptures, but it must not subordinate or supplant it.”

The Hidden Discipline of John Stott – This is an inspiring, convicting article. If I was half as disciplined in my reading and writing as John Stott was, I’d be a first class scholar. Definitely something to aspire to!

Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It? – A longish article on the need for fact checking nonfiction books and the lack of industry standards. This was interesting to me as I’m currently working on a nonfiction book and anyone who is also writing nonfiction might want to give it a read. Fact checking and copy editing are not the same thing, and I had been thinking about how to make sure my facts were correct (important when you work in research for a living!) when I saw this article.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had hoped to finish Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell by the end of October and I did. I think this was my favorite fiction book in 2020. The combination of historical detail, rich characterization, an inventive plot, magical realism, and deep, deep emotions left me with a huge book hangover and food for thought for weeks. If you like Shakespeare or you like historical fiction, you will like this book.

Listening:

A podcast on the three stages of creative work: friction, flow, and finalization – At the beginning of episode 37, Cal Newport talks about how all creative work has these three stages, what each stage entails, and how to push through to complete your project. I’ve often said that writing is 25% thought, 25% drafting, and 50% editing/polishing. Even if my percentages are a bit off, it was nice to know that I’m not the only one who has noticed that the majority of the project is not the fun drafting part.

The last Help Me Teach the Bible podcast – After years of talking to Bible teachers all over the world, Nancy Guthrie is (mostly) wrapping up this podcast. She does reserve the right to do an occasional new one if she’s able to do a great interview in the future. Here’s a list of episodes by Scripture: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/help-me-teach-the-bible-episodes-by-scripture/

Now that I’m back to commuting on a regular basis, I should have more listening suggestions next month. What are you reading or listening to right now? Please share in the comments.

Reading in October

A misty October morning

Reading remains a central part of my life. As the days grow shorter and chillier, I plan more and more time to curl up in my reading chair and crack open a book. Sometimes I choose a new one to enjoy, but oftentimes, especially in autumn, I long to visit with old, familiar friends. I get up and wander to my bookshelves to decide where I want to go.

Do I want to travel to Bath with Anne Elliot in Persuasion by Jane Austen, as I often do in October? Or should I start the academic year once again with Miss Read in Village School, a favorite comfort read? Sometimes only poetry will do and in autumn, I prefer Christina Rossetti’s melancholy, reflective poetry over cheerier stuff.

For lighter reading, I peruse old issues of my all-time favorite magazine, Victoria. Not the new issues, mind, but the original articles and photographs from the 1990’s when the magazine was young and lyrical and full of beautiful things. I miss it still. Afterwards, wanting more, I’ll pick up a book of essays by the original editor of Victoria, Nancy Lindemeyer, and read one before bed each night for sweet dreams.

Murder mysteries are always my favorite, of course, and if I’m going to reread one in October, it is almost always Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Attending Oxford was always a dream of mine, but at this time of my life, my student days are over so I accompany Harriet as revisits her university days.

My reading has slowed down a bit now that the library branches are open to the public again and I’ve added a commute back into my life. However, since I’m still limiting my social media to selected times, I have plenty of time to read if I choose to do so. Here is the list of books I read in October:

Three ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies):

  • The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth – I loved her book The Mother-in-Law and this one did not disappoint.
  • The Lost Village – a mystery set in a remote Scandanavian village, where a group of filmmakers investigates the disappearance of the entire population decades ago. Creepy, borderline horror, but I just had to know what happened to them.
  • The Windsor Knot – I loved this mystery about the Queen of England, her assistant secretary, and their investigation of a murder at Windsor Castle. I’m already anticipating the sequel even though the first isn’t yet released. Highly recommend for people who like intelligent cozy-type mysteries.

Rereads:

  • The Hollow by Agatha Christie – I didn’t think I had read this one until about three chapters in, I remembered who did it but not all the plot points to uncovering the culprit. Not her best, but still, a Hercules Poirot mystery is always fun.
  • Still Life by Louise Penny – the first in Penny’s Armand Gamache series, set in autumn.
  • Jenny Walton’s Packing for a Woman’s Journey by Nancy Lindemeyer – essays that Lindemeyer wrote for Victoria magazine while she was the editor. They are full of home, family, and old-fashioned joys.

New to me:

Beyond the Gates by Dorothy Evelyn Smith – I read about this on the Stuck in a Book blog, where I always find lovely older books and authors that I’ve only vaguely heard of. Beyond the Gates is about an orphan named Lydia, who is terrified to go out into the world from the orphanage where she’s always lived. She is hired by a family, who takes her into their home, and she learns how to live in a new place. It’s a quiet book without much action, but the characters were real to me. The book was very English in its tone and descriptions. Written in 1956, it is a book of its time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Newer books:

  • Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer – the first in a cozy series, set in 1920’s Egypt. A young American widow discovers the body of a young socialite in a posh Egyptian hotel. In order to clear her own name, she investigates with the help of a mysterious stranger.
  • The Last Flight by Julie Clark – two women, fleeing from their pasts, trade plane tickets and flights. When one of the planes crashes, killing everyone on board, the woman still alive is stuck between identities. This was a great thriller and kept me turning pages long past my bedtime.
  • Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay – a librarian, a murder, writers, and libraries are all part of this first in a cozy mystery series. It was a quick read, and I enjoyed all the bookish, library details.

Books that I am currently reading and will finish by October 31:

Village School by Miss Read – a village schoolteacher talks about her school, English village life, and the children in this charming book from an earlier era. (Re-read)
Hamnet by Maggie O’Ferrell – I can’t express how much I am loving this book about Shakespeare’s wife and children, the tragedy that occurred, and how it might have happened in real life. Full of rich historical detail, some magical realism, and characters you will love, most especially Agnes (aka Anne Hathaway).
Beholding and Becoming by Ruth Chou Simons – a book about how to live each day, worshipping God, with gorgeous drawings of the natural world and calligraphy on most pages. Full review to follow once I’m done reading.

I’m still working my way through Union with Christ by Randy Wilbourne. There are so many good points, but I need to think about it as I read so am going slowly to ponder the richness of what it means to live out of union with Christ.

I’m also still working my way through Life Path by Luci Shaw with a group of friends. This is my first time reading this wonderful book on spiritual journaling, but I know that I will return to it again and again as it’s filled with nuggets of truth and prompts for thinking and writing about life.

I’ve not finished as much nonfiction this month because so much of my reading is in the evening when I’m often too tired to comprehend meaty books, but I’m still satisfied with my October reading.

What have you read this month? Were there any particularly fabulous stories or edifying books you can tell us about in the comments?

A Satisfying Reading Life

Image by Jose Antonio Alba from Pixabay

When you consider your reading life, it’s not the number of books that counts but the satisfaction you have in the books that you are reading. For instance, if you read 50 books in a year, but you didn’t like 90% of them, then your reading life isn’t going to make you happy even if you did read a book a week. On the other hand, if you read only 20 books, but they are books you’ve been longing to read, you delighted in each one, and you thought long and hard about them days after finishing, then you have a rich reading life.

This year, I have been fortunate to have a satisfying reading life. Since I’ve mostly been working from home and so have no commute, I achieved my 2020 Goodreads goal of 75 books with three months to spare. Of the 16 books I read since my last check-in, six were nonfiction and ten were fiction. Thus, over a third of books I’ve read this year has been nonfiction, which is a great improvement over last year. The memoirs I read this past month were memorable—Maya Angelou, Ruth Reichl, and Anthony Doerr all had interesting tales to tell in very different ways. Reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings made me simultaneously sad and angry for the child Maya was. Living in Rome for a year with Anthony Doerr was a delight to the senses. My mother and I always loved reading Gourmet magazines, and my mother introduced me to the joys of reading about food. I still love to cook and to read about cooking so Reichl’s memoir of her years at Gourmet was a treat to lose myself in, especially since Reichl included a recipe for a chocolate cake that I must make one of these days.

If I can finish two theology books and fit in a book of poetry before the end of December, I will be pleased with this year’s reading , even if I finish nothing else. Add in a book by one of the Puritan theologians though, and my pleasure will turn to delight.

Currently, I am still reading Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne and have Gospel & Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy, a Biblical Theology book recommended by Nancy Guthrie, to start next. I’m two thirds through a reread of September by Rosamund Pilcher. I’ve always loved her long novels and have never reread this one. Since she has a long novel that seems to fit each season—September for fall, Winter Solstice for winter, Coming Home for spring, and The Shell Seekers for summer—I’m toying with the idea of reading one each season over the next year. Even if I don’t, I am still enjoying the foray into Scotland this month. October is a month for rereading Persuasion, which I will probably bring with me when travel to my son’s wedding. There’s something autumn-like and reflective about Austen’s novel of second chances.

A hold from the library just came in for me this week: The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma. I’m an early riser myself so am looking forward to any new tips she may have on how to make the best use of my mornings. I’m I’m about halfway through Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on audio for my October book group. It has been good to view my country and culture through the eyes of someone so different from me in every way.

Overall, my reading life is just grand. How satisfied are you with your reading life?

Writing in Difficult Times

A journal with paper that doesn’t allow the ink to bleed through and a roller ball pen are my tools of choice when writing by hand.

Like most of you reading this, I have been home a good deal over the last several months, in order to help keep my loved ones and other people in my circles healthy and safe. You would think that with all of this extra time at home (no commute!), I would have been writing up a storm. Alas, it seems that the same conditions that are keeping me at home also seem to be stopping up my creativity.

However, I have been writing and hanging out with writers long enough to know that creativity is not something that always strikes like lightning. Instead, thoughts and ideas come when you cultivate the right conditions for them. What are these conditions? Here are a few that I found help me create a conducive atmosphere for writing:

Noticing
A good writer notices things—the color of the sky, the sound of a dog barking in the street, the conversation in a restaurant, the way a girl skips home, the feel of a fuzzy kiwi in your hand, etc. Writers also notice the way the world works with all of its contradictions, surprises, ruts, pleasure, and pain. They then take these noticings and turn them into ideas for stories, essays, poems, and more.

Recording ideas
No matter how much noticing you do and how many ideas rise to the surface, unless you record them somehow, they could slip through your fingers and be lost. Find a good way to record your ideas and the things you notice. I use several methods to retain ideas. I have a notebook with a pen clipped to it. It’s small enough to keep with me most of the time so I can always jot down a thought as it occurs. I also use the notes app on my smart phone for the times when I don’t have my notebook handy. In a pinch (usually when I’m driving, which seems to be a great time for writing blog posts in my head), I have resorted to talking into my phone and recording my thoughts or the ideas taking shape. Then I can work with them when I get home.

Routines
A good writer develops routines. Writing only happens when you sit down in the chair on a regular basis and put something on paper. Find the time and place that works for you and make it part of your everyday life. The following quote says it all:

Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration.

Ralph Keyes

Transition Rituals
Oftentimes, writing requires changing gears from your daily tasks to reaching down into your mind and soul to transform your ideas and thoughts and noticings into something new. This can be a hard transition, and oftentimes a little ritual of some sort can help. Lighting a candle, brewing a cup of something hot, putting on certain music, or picking up a favorite pen can all be signals to your brain that writing time has begun.

Planning
While some writers don’t need plans to write, others find that planning is the key to bridging the gap between ideas and words on a page. I fall into that camp. If I sit down to write without any plan at all, I sometimes will merely stare at a blank page or produce only garbage. Planning seems to be an essential part of writing for me. This is not true for every writer, but if you are having difficulty getting words on paper, try brainstorming several ideas and then sit down and work on an idea a day. Just having something in mind going into your writing session can be the difference between a blank page and a rough draft.

Tools
Choose your tools wisely. If you prefer paper and pen, choose smooth paper that feels good and a pen that doesn’t make your hand hurt or smear on the paper. If you choose digital, feel comfortable with your keyboard and make sure your computer or tablet or phone has the space to contain what you want to write. If you’re writing outdoors or off the grid, make sure your device is fully charged. Having enough light helps as does having a comfortable chair and sturdy desk or table.

Focus
Finally, good focus makes a difference. We live in an age of increasing distraction, but successful writing requires the ability to focus for substantial amounts of time, using deep thought and hard work. A book that I have found helpful in re-teaching myself how to focus well is Cal Newport’s Deep Work. He doesn’t have any easy answers. Work is still work, but Newport does give you the tools and practical frameworks for learning to focus for longer and longer periods of time, which can make or break your writing routines.

I hope these ideas are helpful with inspiring you to create words and articles and books and poems. Do you have any tips for creativity? Please share them in the comments.

Interesting Articles and Podcasts

Each week, I send articles to a website that sends me a collection of articles to read in a single document for my kindle. This helps prevent me from falling down “rabbit holes” when I should be doing something productive but allows me to keep reading interesting things from around the web. Here are a few of the articles I’ve read this past month:

Jen Wilkin lists nine things to help in studying the Bible: https://www.crossway.org/articles/9-tips-for-making-the-most-of-your-bible-study/

Many of us are still working from home, which can make the work/home lines bleed together a bit too much at times. This article is a helpful look at the benefits of unplugging from work and other online pursuits: http://lauraearnest.com/unplugging/

While we are able to get out and about more these days, spending a couple of hours in a coffee shop may not be optimal or even possible. Here are ways to duplicate that experience of writing (or working) in a coffee shop: https://thewritelife.com/recreate-coffee-shop-experience-from-home/

Although I’ve been a Christian for many years, prayer is still difficult for me at times. Lectio Divina has been one way, through two prayer apps a friend suggested, to focus on the Lord each morning: https://www.24-7prayer.com/ancientprayerrhythms

My garden has never looked better since I’ve had more time at home to tend it. There’s something wonderfully healing about being outside in nature without a phone or other electronic device and dig: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/24/the-therapeutic-power-of-gardening

Reading has been a daily habit of mine for decades. However, I’m always reading articles and books on how to cram more reading time into my life. This article was great. https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-make-a-daily-habit-of-reading-more-books

I subscribe to several podcasts, some of which I listen to every single episode and some of which I dip into once in a while when the episode sounds applicable to my life or I want to know more. Here are some episodes I found particularly useful or interesting this past month:

Sarah from theshubox.com has started a new planner/planning podcast, which I love. Here’s her take on building a planning system: https://bestlaidplans.libsyn.com/rss

I just found the Redeeming Productivity podcast this summer and am slowly working my way through the back episodes. This recent episode was helpful in thinking about how contentment doesn’t have to interfere with ambition and productivity: https://www.redeemingproductivity.com/feed/podcast

I have loved all of the episodes of Help Me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie, but I found this one especially fascinating as she talked to Andrew Sach about Elijah and Elisha and their foreshadowing of the New Testament: https://feeds.simplecast.com/TtKQNBCJ

Cal Newport, author of one of my favorite productivity books, Deep Work, started a new podcast this year. This is his kickoff episode. Don’t let the length scare you. He addresses multiple questions in each episode, which means you can listen for 10-20 minutes and then leave it until the next time without losing the thread of a discussion. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to do focused knowledge work for their job or personal projects. His humor is a bit nerdy, which adds to the fun: https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1121972.rss

When I’m trying to focus on work or writing, sometimes I need silence and sometimes background music helps. Eric Nordhoff is an artist I discovered recently, whose music is uplifting and great for focusing:

https://open.spotify.com/album/6co8Pt2GpcnqNa17Mbr77C?si=RagH7JKOTuibDTaX5kyeKQ

What are you reading and/or listening to this month?

Reading Goals Check-in

After listening to the latest podcast episode of What Should You Read Next, I realized that I wanted to do a check-in on my reading goals before September hits. Since 2020 ended up being far different than anything we could have imagined, I wanted to see if I was keeping up my with my original reading goals, did I need to tweak my goals and reading trends, or did I want to throw out my goals altogether?

As of mid-August, I have read 59 of 75 books, listed on my Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge. I’ve actually read more this year, but I don’t list everything on Goodreads, particularly those books that I reread for comfort. Here are my current stats, as of mid-August 2020:

  • Fiction – 46 (78%)
  • Nonfiction – 13 (22%)

One of my reasons for having a smaller number of books in my 2020 challenge was to have more to read a larger percentage of nonfiction. Even with a couple of months of reading only murder mysteries in order to cope with quarantine, I’m almost at 25% nonfiction, which makes me happy. I’d like to bump that up to 30% by the end of the year, which would require my reading ten more nonfiction books in the next four months—an achievable goal!

Tweaking my goals – While I’ve read a couple of Christian living books, I haven’t finished even one theology book this year. I’d like at least two of my ten nonfiction books to be theology books. If I put my mind to it, I could probably read one a month to give me four for the year, but I’m going to shoot for two theology titles in my final count.

I’ve read one poetry book and would like to squeeze one more in before the end of the year.

Fiction is going well. I’ve read some good new fiction, and I have several more waiting on my ereader for me, thanks to ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies–there are perks to working at a library!). I’ve also reread a few favorites and in December, I am very likely to reread a few more of my favorite Christmas books.

If I had to choose favorite books so far this year, I’d have to choose This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear in nonfiction, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens in fiction, and Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien in audio.

Winspear’s memoir comes out this fall and is a real, sometimes enchanting, often difficult, story of her family and growing up years. It gives the reader a lot of background understanding for her Maisie Dobbs mystery series, and I enjoyed reading about her youth in mid-20th century Britain.

Everybody loved Where the Crawdads Sing when it came out in 2018, and I am late to that party. For the longest time, the hold list was so long at the library that I had decided to wait until it died down. A couple of months ago, I was poking around our library ebook selection, and it was available to borrow, so I snatched it up. It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about a young girl, abandoned by everyone, who somehow makes a life for herself in the marshes of North Carolina. There’s nature, family, a murder, and more. I loved every minute of it.

Finally, who can resist listening to stories, written by J.R.R. Tolkien and read by Sir Derek Jacobi. This was a commute listen before the pandemic hit. Every story is enjoyable and the audio version is definitely the way to go because of Derek Jacobi’s first-rate retelling.

I am currently reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, a classic that has long been on my TBR list; What’s Best Next by Matthew Aaron Perman, a Christian productivity book; Union with God by Rankin Wilbourne, a theology book about living the Christian life through our union with Christ; a couple of ARCs that are due out later this fall, and I just downloaded a YA novel about magic in regency England by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer , which should be sheer fun.

How are your reading goals going at this point in the year? What has been your favorite book (or least favorite)? Do you want to tweak some of your reading goals? I’d love to hear about how your reading is going in the comments.

Just around the corner

March is here along with the birds and the budding trees and flowers. Bulbs I planted last autumn are pushing up out of the ground. I can hardly wait to see what colors they will be!

Little birds twitter from the trees and hop along the ground in search of food while the geese are flying home. I see them resting in a nearby field as they stop on their long journey north. The air may be chilly yet, but the sun is warm, and the whole world is waking up.

A favorite book of mine is The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, one of the loveliest nature journals ever created. Each month has it’s own watercolor drawings and poems and notes on what is growing. I read this bit of verse this morning and thought it apt for the day:

Now the North wind ceases;
The warm South-west awakes;
The heavens are out in fleeces
And earth's green banner shakes. 
--Geo. Meredith

Spring is just around the corner. What harbingers of the new season do you see today? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Winter Reflection

Once New Year’s is over and January sets in, I spend more time thinking, musing, and meditating. Winter seems to be more conducive to slowing down and pondering ideas. I wonder if it’s because the cold drives us indoors to cuddle under a warm woolen blanket with a cozy sweater and a hot drink. Burrowing into a pile of warmth leads to more time alone with myself, which is the perfect opportunity to think about all the things I’ve been avoiding or not able to set aside time to deal with in busier times.

Image by janbrokes from Pixabay

I consider my yearly goals at the very beginning of January, as many others do, but then I move on to more profound thoughts. In the early morning when it’s still dark outside, and no one is awake except me and the cat, I have the silence and solitude to meditate. Snuggled in a quilt and woolly robe, I read my Bible and devotional books, jotting down thoughts and contemplating what the author is saying.  Sometimes another book I’ve been reading catches my attention in a richer way than mere entertainment so I focus on making sense of its deeper meaning. 

I think about and pray for my friends and family in those dark hours before dawn, giving the Holy Spirit room to bring certain people to my attention for prayer. I allow my mind to drift and make connections between the things I’m studying and my everyday life at home and work. Meditation allows me to pick up on strings of logic and networks of relationship that I might otherwise miss. Burying myself in thoughts and prayers allows the Lord to speak truth into my heart that I might not hear if I was living at a shallower level or surrounded by noise, real and virtual. 

Current devotional reading

Winter is my reflective season, which produces seeds of wisdom and truth that will yield a harvest for the rest of the year.

Do you find winter to be a good time to reflect and meditate? I’d love to hear about your meditations in the comments!

My Reading in 2019

Image by Sofia Iivarinen from Pixabay

Every year I look forward to seeing a snapshot of my reading year in Goodreads. I don’t add every book I read to my Goodreads account, but I add most of them. I always begin the year with good intentions about what I’m going to read, and I like to see how close I get to my starting goals.

In 2019, I set a goal to read 80 books, and I recorded 85 books read as of December 31, 2019. 69 of those books were fiction and 16 nonfiction or poetry. Eight were children’s books and only one was on audio. 34% of the books were rereads, which is a higher percentage than usual.

It was not quite as rich a reading year as 2018, but there are several titles that stand out as well worth my reading time

Fiction:

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner – I read this for my book club, but I had wanted to read it ever since finishing Crossing to Safety last year. This is the book that Stegner won the Pulitzer for and I can see why he did. Stegner tells the story of an artistic young woman who marries a mining engineer and moves to California and other western locations with him. At its heart is the story of a marriage, and I was fascinated by how this couple dealt with all of the difficulties they faced. Apparently they were real people and Stegner used family papers to tell their story in this excellent historical novel.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth – I picked this up on a whim and enjoyed reading the story of a woman and her relationship with her mother-in-law. When it began, I thought the author was going to take it in a typical direction, but I was wrong and the end result was excellent. A thriller with a meaty twist.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos – A feel good novel about a difficult topic. Modern Mrs. Darcy suggested this as part of her 2018 Summer Reading. I never regret reading her suggestions, even the ones that I’m not sure are my type of books.

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict – I’ve enjoyed the many books about lesser known women in history that I have come out over the last several years. This book about Clementine Churchill helped me better understand Prime Minister Winston Churchill and was a interesting look at their marriage and how much stronger the two of them were together than either of them were on their own.

Kindred by Octavia Butler – another book group read and one I’ve had on my to-read list for several years. Butler uses time travel as a medium for a modern African American woman to go back to pre-Civil War Maryland. It was a horrifying look at slavery and the system that she had only read about in history books. I’m glad I read it although I had to put it down a few times to recover from the events in the book. I recommend this for anyone who wants to have a better idea of what slavery was really like for many people in this country.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – I’m a sucker for books written in letters and this hilarious book tells the story of Bernadette, an anti-social wife and mother in Seattle, who disappears and how her teen daughter tracks her down through her emails and texts she left behind. It was fun book that kept me up far too late because I wanted to know where Bernadette had gone and why she did what she did.

Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher – I’ve had this on my shelf since my mother’s death (it was her copy), but I kept putting it off because once I read it, I would have read all of Pilcher’s major novels, which I loved. However, after listening to a respected author recommend it, I picked it up to read this Christmas, and it did not disappoint. Wonderful characters, lovely domestic descriptions, and an uplifting but not saccharine story of second chances at love. Each of Pilcher’s major books goes with a season in my mind although I don’t know if she meant for that to be true. This one is obviously a winter book and I know I will pull it out again in the next couple of years to read on a snowy week.

Nonfiction –

My top two nonfiction reads are by the same author, Christie Purifoy: Roots and Sky and Placemaker. I don’t remember how I first heard of Roots and Sky but I read it last winter and fell in love with the author’s beautiful prose. I found her blog and podcast soon after and they tided me over until her second book came out last spring. She writes about making a home, no matter what your job or sex or time of life as well as discussing gardens, books, and more. I love her books and recommend them to anyone who wants to read beautiful prose about beauty, plants, and community.

I reread Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin for the fourth time as part of a women’s study last summer and in preparation to teaching a Bible study in 2020. What a convicting, inspiring, helpful book. Every Christian woman should try to pick this book up to learn the reasons why we should be studying God’s Word as part of our daily lives.

Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs is a book of essays about how theology and God can be seen in the most ordinary of daily happenings.

Other:

Last, but not least, are two children’s books that I loved and recommend. Last summer I had the privilege of hearing Supreme Court Justice Sonja Sotomayor speak at a library conference. Like many of us, I had heard many things about Justice Sotomayor but didn’t have any idea what she was really like. Well, she was amazing—smart, funny, wise, and loving. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her speak and went right back home to start reading her books. I started with her children’s books, Turning Pages and Just Ask, both of which are worth reading. I plan to read her adult memoir this year to find out more about this interesting woman.

What great books did you read in 2019? Was it a good reading year for you or less than your best? Tell me about it in the comments!

Finding God in the Ordinary – Book Review

Blue-centered Daisy

I first heard about Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs while listening to the podcast Mortification of Spin. As the author spoke about his book, I knew that this was something I would love to read since looking for God in the small things is an activity I have long practiced.

My copy is a beautiful hard-bound book with a lovely cover and easily readable fonts. However, the treasure is in the words. Pierce Taylor Hibbs takes ordinary events like drinking coffee, shadows, dust, birds on a telephone wire, snow falling, wind, and light and shows the reader how to find God in these every day, ordinary events.

It’s not just that his prose is delightful, but his choice of words approaches poetry in many places within these essays. And his references to the Trinity, creation, language, God’s majesty and providence, and other theological subjects within his musings about “ordinary” events so enrich those events that I will never look at dust floating in the air or shadows on the grass the same again.

Let me share just a few quotes:

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight. p. 6

The beating heart of the Trinity is thumping underneath every human word, no matter how trivial or commonplace. p. 16

While darkness is an arena for the light of faith, it is the Lord of light himself that brings our feeble faith to fruition. pp. 26-27

Mistakes are not just markers of our depravity. They are more than that. They are the triune God’s spadework in the soil of the soul. They are opportunities for the great gardener to tend our lives and help us grow. p. 32

I highly recommend this book and plan to re-read these essays over and over again.