Archive for the ‘The Bookshelf’ Category

The Bookshelf

I put myself on blog restriction a few weeks back; turns out this is a great way to get through paid work efficiently. With a mostly cleared out inbox I’m ready to resurface on the virtual front.  

My nightstand has a fairly neat stack of titles that continue to deplete my Post-It Tabs. It turns out that I’m just not a one-at-a-time book sort of lady. I’m okay with this. At moments I do question my behavior from the standpoint of  personal cohesion. Then I move on (and find something else to read). 

That as the backdrop, here’s some present day favorites.


The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun  By, Gretchen Rubin

This one caught my attention right away. Rubin is a professional writer, a wife and a mother of two girls whose age span mirrors the H’s. She has no intention of pulling an Eat, Love, Pray on her family (which I appreciate) but also recognizes the merit in searching one’s soul and taking intentional steps towards a happier existence. Some nights my attention has waned, but generally speaking her ideas have challenged my own and left me with some solid takeaways (like committing to a 10:00 bedtime and pursuing the end of designing a new blog). 

One Thousand Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Where You Are  By, Ann Voskamp

Within the first few pages, I found myself taken by Ann’s craft; her transparency borders on unsettling, yet dares to move through the realm of grief and hope in ways I’ve never encountered before.  

National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States, 6th Edition

Last month I came up with an idea. It was birthed out of my desire to leverage the lifestyle benefits of teaching the girls from home. Like any decision, it can become easy with homeschooling to focus on what makes that commitment challenging. I don’t want to chose that path.

Enter, the National Parks book. With a bit of research I learned that there’s 58 of them. Here’s my thought – how amazing would it be to see all of them as a family before we send Hannah to college! I figure we can circle back to some favorites with the littlest once her sister is gone.

Phil’s on board with only slight hesitation based on his deep appreciation for his goal-oriented, deadline-driven wife. He did make me promise that the Virgin Islands would be our 58th destination. I agreed.  We’re starting this spring with Yosemite and Sequoia. This summer we’re planning to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. I find myself floating somewhere between giddy, sentimental and totally fixated on how we’ll pull this off. 


Jayber Crow  By, Wendell Berry

Oh Jayber. This insightful and steady barber feels a bit like an old friend. I’ve found my pace for reading Berry’s novel to match that of his protagonist. Still, its story continues to resonate and challenge me. And so, I keep going. A few weeks back I found a quote that I fully intend to site in my own book someday.

“That grief should come and bring joy with it was not something I felt able, or even called upon, to sort out or understand. I accepted the grief. I accepted the joy. I accepted that they came to me out of the same world.”

 In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed  By, Carl Honore

I haven’t actually started this one. I checked it out from the library on the recommendation of my new friend Ann. Ann and I often find ourselves talking on the patio at church since neither of us have tapped into nursery care. The more I learn about Ann, the more I like her; she’s artistic, deep thinking and incredibly hospitable.  

She and her husband invited us over for dinner last weekend. It was one of those balmy January days where you’re tempted to call your friends who live in Colorado and casually bring up the weather.

They served up a grilled cheese bar on their barbecue. Imagine a nice loaf of sourdough with olive oil on hand to spray each slice of bread. There were various cheeses lining a wooden cutting board along with a plate of possibilities to add including but not limited to pesto, spicy mustard, fresh basil, tomato, avocado and prosciutto.

I kept my eyes out for a staff photographer from Sunset to show up.  Okay, not really. But in all seriousness, it was just such a nice evening as families that teetered harmoniously between comfortablity and class.

While this has very little to do with the book’s content, I’ll leave you with this; how could I not enjoy a read that was recommended from a woman who served kale chips right alongside bacon wrapped dates as appetizers for this fresh evening meal?


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Good Memoirs

“Most good memoirs turn out not to be about the memoirist at all. But always, the reader becomes a stand-in for the I, and the life of the I becomes the life of the reader, so no matter who is speaking, the successful true story is always the reader’s story on some level.”

– Bill Roorbach, Writing Life Stories

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I love books. Anyone who knows me for more than two hours will know this too. When I find a good one, which is about every third day, I love sharing it with anyone who will listen. Turns out, there’s a market for this – books about books. And, it turns out I really like these.

So, without further ramblings about my devotion to the written word, I’m going to share four titles that are presently on my shelf. If you have any other suggestions in this arena that you’d like to pass along, I have one more fifteen dollar plastic card from Barnes and Noble that is just waiting for this sort of transaction.


100 Best Books for Children

This is my most recently acquired title of this sort and has fast become my favorite in the kid department. Author Anita Silvey certainly has the publishing credentials to be taken seriously within this genre. Still, even more impressive to me is her clear passion for literature that inspires and ignites a child’s imagination – from their earliest years forward. The grouping is organized by age (from two to twelve) with a one to two page essay for each title; here Silvey shares interesting background information as well as substantial context and storyline details.

If you happen to be goal oriented, this resource is also one you could literally move through until seeing it to completion. Likewise, if you are just not sure where to turn with your elementary or junior high child when you head to the library or bookstore, this would be an invaluable guide.

Honey for a Child’s Heart

I was given this title as a gift when Hannah was born from a woman who’d spent her entire career teaching elementary school. The first one hundred pages are devoted to casting a vision in both inspirational and practical terms as to how you can help foster a love of literature in your children. For me, this was certainly foundational as I started down the road of parenting and I still find myself referring to it often with new eyes depending on my present vantage point.

The back half (another 100 pages or so) provides you with lists (again by age) starting at 0 and working all the way through to 12. The descriptions for each title are concise but also give you enough of a picture to know whether or not it would be something you’d like to pursue. This resource and I have spent many late evenings together at the computer as I’ve poured over it in order to reserve titles from our local library online.

Books Children Love

I’ve spent the least amount of time with this final resource. Still, the moments I have glanced through it have left me impressed and wanting for more. In its introduction, author Elizabeth Wilson sums up her purpose and intention quite well. “It is a book that was written with love: love for children with their wonderful questing minds, their lives of yet-undreamed, unshaped possibilities; love for language, for ideas, for imagination, for knowledge, for all that is a part of the inexhaustible richness of the world of books; and, above all, with a love for God, and for all He has made and done and given – truth, beauty, love, infinite diversity – for He called it very good.”



Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture

I first came across this one on Donald Miller’s blog. He began featuring essays from this resource and I was immediately taken – both by the words themselves and the titles they were calling upon. This list is more diverse than one might imagine (ranging from The Rule of Benedict to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies) and frankly will keep me busy for several years I’m sure.

Each book is introduced through a short essay penned by an impressive collection of authors. These provide both background and insights that may even lead readers to revisit old friends. Most recently I’ve been inspired to take a second look at Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird since the last time I mistakenly assumed that the yellow and black version told me everything I needed to know. The authors behind these essays tend toward dry humor and wit which is fine by me. In all, a great guide to move you through familiar and new titles with fresh and engaging commentary along the way.



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A Season

A couple of weeks ago, author Bill Roorbach caused me to sit up a bit straighter and create a plan for how I would add consistency and strides toward my goal of writing on a more consistent basis. He reminded me that writers read – something I know and practice. In exercise two he told me to select a collection of difficult books and go about consuming them in a timely manner.

I went about selecting my titles (you can see my list below). I began with Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa and thoroughly enjoyed the first thirty pages. I enjoyed them so much that I flipped to the back of the book in order to learn a bit more about the man behind the prose (I was a Social Science major for those scratching your head in wonderment at my lack of familiarity with the details of Hemingway’s life). Turns out, he killed himself. You probably already knew this. Well, I didn’t and somehow his tragic end cast an entirely different hue on the pages I’d just ingested. No longer was I enjoying my nightstand discipline.  

Add to this grey cloud, two sick girls and Christmas days away. My self-imposed syllabus of sorts was all but forgotten. At first, I felt bad about this – as though I’d somehow failed. Yet with perspective and a Barnes and Noble gift card from my mother-in-law I began to see this experience with different eyes.

I’ve been a mother for over eight years now (if you count pregnancy, which I definitely do). On the one hand, I would like to think that I’ve embraced this role and live well within it. Still, it is in moments like my self-imposed reading list I come to understand even more that I continue to hold on to desires and ambitions that are difficult to fit into my present season. Being a mom is hard work – it requires more than I ever imagined and leaves little time for reprieve and personal development.

This is a sticking point for me if I’m really honest about it. In my most candid moments, I long to develop my writing, my culinary skills and my fitness regime. Instead, most days involve more American Girl books than Hemingway, more grilled cheese than frittatas and more toddler chasing that serene yoga poses. Part of me would love to travel and hike to places beyond the county line and without having to pack rice puffs and raisins wherever I go. I really like the idea of  a carpet without spots, a car without sand and a social life that included an occassional lunch out. At times I look longingly at women in their slacks with laptops gracing the bar at Peets while I schlep my kids to the counter and pray that nothing breaks at the hands of  the littlest while procuring my once a month Soy Cafe au Lait to go.

When Roorbach provided me a structured and disciplined plan for writing I jumped at the chance, until I remembered that I don’t live in a bubble. For me, writing is that thing that makes me feel most like myself – more than parenting, more than most things. Yet I was quickly reminded that my present capacity and my commitment to my girls and Phil limit what else I can take on. That’s hard to admit, but in my case it is true.

At the end of a long day of straddling the world of a toddler and that of a seven year-old there’s little left for striving on the word front. When Hemingway’s fate came to light that evening, I quickly realized that this heavy plight was more than I cared to pursue as I drifted off to sleep – even if that meant forgoing the worthwhile end of taking on difficult books. And here’s where the gift card comes into play.

With twenty-five plastic dollars in hand, I went about finding books that soothed my soul rather than restricted or upset it. I released myself of the self-imposed limitations that had no place in this season and replaced them with the freedom to meander. And there, in this wandering I have to believe that creativity and groundedness will coexist.

So far, this path has led me to Wendell Berry’s work, Jayber Crow as well as some other titles that you’ll find in my margin. I’ve found the aforementioned to be pleasant bedtime reading, insightful and most importantly not draining me of the energy I need to reserve for the things that matter most. It’s a season. I know it is. How I long to face each moment of it with authenticity, acceptance, inspiration and hope.  

Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.  – Jayber Crow

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Writers Read

As I continue to acclimate to teaching Hannah from home, I’ve grown increasingly restless to write. While it seems counterintuitive, I can’t seem to shake it. And so, I’ve found my way back to a book that I hope will bring some form to the latter of these equally compelling ends. Here’s what author Bill Roorbach has to say on page 20.

“Sunday night, pick a difficult or important or intriguing book from whatever source and assign it to yourself (sternly, if necessary) for the seven days ahead. And see to it the jobs gets done.”

Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature

Drawing from the most accessible of places (my own bookshelf) here’s my December/January reading list:

Green Hills of Africa – Hemmingway

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Three – Annie Dillard

In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing -Christopher Noel

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

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A Single Sentence


“Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

-Kim John Payne, M.ED. Simplicity Parenting

I read this a few weeks back. Then I tried living it; I most often get derailed on the necessary component, although I’ve been known to botch all three in a single day.

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Last week Hannah and I spent some time learning about a handful of children’s authors. We had a great time exploring  picture books about Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I then had her write a letter to one of her favorite authors, Ms. Betty Birney, in order to tell her how much she appreciated her Humphrey book series. We enclosed this picture and sent it on its way.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she hears back from Ms. Birney. Regardless, I think we both walked away from the week knowing a bit more about some beloved writers and appreciating their craft and their lives in new ways.

“Leadsmen on steamboats measured the depth of the river by lowering a rope into the water. They called back their measurements, or ‘marks,’ to the pilot. Twelve feet deep was ‘mark twain.’ Any shallower and the steamboat was in danger of getting stuck. Sam later started signing his stories ‘Mark Twain.’ With his fondness for stirring up trouble and for river life, it seemed like just the right name for him.” 

– William AndersonRiver Boy; The Story of Mark Twain

 “When Beatrix was in her twenties, she painted the mushrooms she had collected in Scotland during her summer vacations. She had learned a great deal about them. She noted in her diary that rotted mushrooms might be used in cancer research. Beatrix wanted to publish a report and sell the 300 paintings of mushrooms she had completed. Sadly, her research was not taken seriously. Because she lived at a time when men considered themselves the experts in the study of science, her work was not accepted.”

-Alexandra Wallner, Beatrix Potter


“In 1932, when Laura was sixty-five, her first book Little House in the Big Woods was published. Readers loved it. They wanted to know what happened next. Laura wrote seven more books about her family. She was pleased that many people enjoyed her stories. Laura was as good at writing stories as Pa had been at telling them.”

– Alexandra Wallner, Laura Ingalls Wilder

“He was born in 1904 and lived in the best of all possible places – 74 Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. The gray three-story house was exactly three blocks from the public library. And it was just six blocks from the zoo.”

Kathleen Krull, The Boy on Fairfield Street

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