For Those Who Borrow Books

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This gem from Lectures of Interest to Women, a sort of 1919 version of What to Expect when You’re Expecting, made me laugh aloud. And then I said, “Oh-oh.” I believe I have five books borrowed from friends. Now I have a virtuous reason to read today!

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Lila

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Wow. The audio edition read by Maggie Hoffman enshrouded me, made this not merely listening to a book, but an experience. I listened while driving, but when I was home, I found it difficult to do anything beyond listening. Setting the iron upright, drying my hands, leaving clean clothes in the basket, I basked in the cadences.


The writing is spare, the words short. This is a story of abandonment, of survival, of transience. Provision and grace make spattered appearances, but they are layered and torn and patched. Lila finds herself alone but she steadfastly refuses to consider herself needy. The story pivots when she steps into a church on a rainstorm.

Quotes that captured me:

I got shame like a habit, the only thing I feel except when I’m alone.

There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, grace had to fall over them.

Most of the time she thought she understood things better when she didn’t try. Things happen the way they do. Why was a foolish question. In a song a note follows the one before because it is that song and not another one.

If I were leading a discussion of this book, we would talk about the knife; geraniums; gardens; charity; baptism; adoption; King James language; Psalm 22. And Ezekiel.

I was unmoved when I first read Gilead. What changed my response was hearing the audio. I can still remember what I was doing when I listened perhaps five years ago, it made so deep an impression. Now I want to return to the print book and read it with Lila still fresh in my mind.

Getting Paid to Read

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I have repeatedly said, I would love to get paid to read!

What I really mean is: I would love to get paid to read whatever I want on my own schedule. Basically, I want a stipend to breathe air.

Because having to read what someone else has chosen is too close to being back in school.

At times the promise of free books has tempted me to consider pursuing review copies from the publisher, but the obligatory nature of reviewing has slapped me on the cheeks and snapped me out of it.

Because of my reputation as a reader, I am often given books to read. People love a book and they want me to love it with them. Which obligates me to read that book. [This is fitting payback, because I’ve been that friend/acquaintance/stranger who pressed unsolicited books into hands with the words You. must. read. this. book.] Don’t get me wrong: I love gift books and I love loaned books. I love the discussions they engender. I just don’t like feeling disloyal to my books which migrate to the bottom of my pile.

Recently, I started following Anne Bogel’s blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This girl reads for a living. She is fun and welcoming: a literary, book-loving version of The Pioneer Woman.  Anne’s content is beautifully linked to Amazon and I’m sure she gets sweet monthly referral fees. It hit me one day: She gets paid to read!

My next thought was But. She must read newly released books to get Amazon referral fees. You can’t recommend Anthony Trollope (whose books are free on Kindle) and make money. And I am quickly back to contentment. I get to read the books on my shelves, yay!

Anne has a podcast called What Should I Read Next? While I am probably 38% compatible with Anne’s picks, the moment I wait for is when she describes her guest’s reading pattern, based on 3 books loved and 1 book hated. These diagnoses are often Aha! moments; guests use words like uncanny, crazy, I’ve never thought of that before!  It’s as close to book therapy as you get. Here is a sample analysis:

You’ve chosen books about women who had to learn to be strong, because life threw some stuff their way. And they had to rise to the challenge. And they did. And whether the story is written in first person or third, these books show us these women’s lives through their own eyes. We get their side of the story, their version of events, and we, as the reader, have the privilege of walking alongside them as they get a little older and a little wiser and really come into their own.

I have my own What Should I Read Next? dilemma, but not in the way of needing a book recommendation. My question stems from having far too many choices staring at me from my bookshelves. I want to read them all. The job doesn’t pay well, but there are benefits.

Chronological 2015 Reading List

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It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. — C.S. Lewis

The rewards of deep reading (reading several books on the same subject or by the same author) are plentiful: synthesis, comprehension, analysis. Or just the possibility of remembering the main point. Reading widely pays well, too. The stab of joy, the searing beauty of synchronicity! When I read Book G and it revisits something I read in Book B with no obvious connection between the two? Oh, man. It gets my voice in the high treble range and sets my fingers aflutter.

I thought it would be fun to classify my reading list for 2015 chronologically by publication date. I like old books, yes. But I also have been guilty of reverse-snobbery, where I lift my nose a few centimeters and declare that I’m not all that interested in modern writing. Blech! (autocorrect wanted to change that to belch; that works, too!) As you can see, I’ve overcome that weakness, haha!

2011-2015 (30 books)

Reclaiming Conversation     Sherry Turkle
Come Rain or Come Shine     Jan Karon
Bread and Wine     Shauna Niequist
Earthen Vessels     Matthew Lee Anderson
Being Mortal     Atul Gawande
Fierce Convictions     Karen Swallow Prior
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust     Alan Bradley
Landfalls     Naomi Williams
The Wright Brothers     David McCullough
All the Light We Cannot See     Anthony Doerr
Gutenberg’s Apprentice   Alix Christie
Nigellissima     Nigella Lawson
Among the Janeites     Deborah Yaffe
Wheat Belly     William Davis
Every Good Endeavor     Timothy Keller
Coolidge    Amity Shlaes
The Book of Strange New Things     Michel Faber
The Green Ember     S.D. Smith
Food: A Love Story     Jim Gaffigan
Dad Is Fat     Jim Gaffigan
God Made All of Me    Justin Holcomb
No Higher Honour     Condoleezza Rice
The Forgotten Founding Father     Joshua Kendall
Delancey     Molly Wizenberg
Lit! The Christian Guide to Reading Books     Tony Reinke
The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse     Alan Bradley
The Every-Other-Day-Diet     Krista Varady
Tsura     Heather Anastasiu
House of Stone     Heather Anastasiu
One Good Dish     David Tanis

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. — C.S. Lewis

2000-2010 (24 books)

In the Midst of Life     Jennifer Worth
The Midwife     Jennifer Worth
Waiting for Snow in Havana     Carlos Eire
The River of Doubt     Candice Millard
Mudhouse Sabbath     Lauren Winner
Complications     Atul Gawande
Unless It Moves the Human Heart     Roger Rosenblatt
The Importance of Being Seven     Alexander McCall Smith
The Best Day, The Worst Day     Donald Hall
A Personal Odyssey     Thomas Sowell
The Shoebox Bible     Alan Bradley
Sonata for Miriam     Linda Olsson
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance     Atul Gawande
Shadows of the Workhouse     Jennifer Worth
Inkheart     Cornelia Funke
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones     Alexander McCall Smith
Old Filth     Jane Gardam
The Man in the Wooden Hat     Jane Gardam
How to Read Shakespeare     Nicholas Royle
In Thy Dark Streets Shineth       David McCullough
The House at Riverton     Kate Morton
Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs     Larry Smith
Widow of the South     Robert Hicks
A Separate Country     Robert Hicks

1990-1999 (7 books)

A Pianist’s Landscape     Carol Montparker
Down the Common     Ann Baer
Poems New and Collected     Wistawa Szymborska
Melodious Accord     Alice Parker
One Year Off     David Elliot Cohen
Girl in Hyacinth Blue     Susan Vreeland
Jeremy: The Tale of An Honest Bunny     Jan Karon

1980-1988 (2 books)

Godric     Frederick Buechner
To School Through the Fields     Alice Taylor

1970-1979  (1 book)

The Brendan Voyage    Tim Severin

1950-1969 (4 books)

A Grief Observed     C.S. Lewis
How Does a Poem Mean?     John Ciardi
On the Beach     Nevil Shute
The Schoolmasters     Leonard Everett Fisher

1900-1949 (7 books)

Orthodoxy     G.K. Chesterton
The Adventures of Sally     P.G. Wodehouse
Pied Piper   Nevil Shute
Anna and the King of Siam     Margaret Landon
I Capture the Castle     Dodie Smith
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres     Henry Adams
Jimmy at Gettysburg     Margaret Bigham Beitler

The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. — C.S. Lewis

1800-1899 (4 books)

Doctor Wortle’s School     Anthony Trollope
Sir Henry Hotspur     Anthony Trollope
Henry Heathcote of Gangoil     Anthony Trollope
Luck of the Roaring Camp     Bret Harte

1500-1599 (2 books)

Henry IV, Part I     William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part 2     William Shakespeare

0- 500 AD (2 books)

On the Incarnation    Athanasius
Marcus Aurelius and his Times     Marcus Aurelius

Photograph is my granddaughter, reading Goodnight Moon to me.

Come Rain or Come Shine, The Book

I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.

Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.

There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.

The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’  There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.

DSC_0964The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!

Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.

I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.

‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’

♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.

This book.

I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.

Marcus, Lucian, Justin

DSC_4613Nothing motivates me to read a book more than deciding to give/sell/swap it and someone else wanting it. The mailing deadline puts me into a panic and the book that has been sitting, unread, on my shelf for decades suddenly must. be. read. Stat!

Such is the story of Marcus Aurelius and His Times. I remember the moment it came into my life. I was at the annual book sale at the local university and my friend/former boss — a skeptic who loved to spar with me over existential stuff, until we had to limit those rambling discussions to Thursday, because we did Theology on Thursday — walked up to me and put this book in my hand. Bakker, he said, you need to read this. And since he had very high literary standards, I clicked my heels and bought the book. That was in the vicinity of 1993.

This book excerpts three authors: Marcus Aurelius, 161-180 AD, Stoic   //   Lucian of Samosata, Skeptic   //   Justin Martyr, Christian

As is universally the case, I am astonished at how easy it is to read words from so far back in history. Words that make me giggle aloud:

“Are you irritated with one whose armpits smell? Are you angry with one whose mouth has a foul odor? What good will your anger do you? He has this mouth, he has these armpits. Such emanations must come from these things.”
— M. Aurelius V. 28.

Aurelius advocates a humble approach to life, laced with thanksgiving. I see myself, alas, in the second man of this meditation:

“One man, when he has done a service to another, is ready to set it down on his account as a favor conferred. Another is not apt to do this, but still in his own mind he thinks of the other man as his debtor, and knows what he has done. A third hardly knows what he has done, but is like a vine which has produced grapes, and asks nothing more once it has produced its proper fruit.

As a horse when it has run its race, a dog when it has tracked its game, a bee when it has made its honey, so a man when he has done a good act does not call out for others to come and see, but goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in season.”
— M. Aurelius, V.6.

I skimmed the Lucian section but stopped long enough to be enraptured by the phrase “travelers must bedew it [the path] with sweat.”

I was most eager to read Justin Martyr. I’ve read a few early Church Fathers and I declare I find Justin the most accessible. His description of the cross as fundamental to life on earth surprised and delighted me.

The final bonus excerpt from Walter Pater’s ‘Marius the Epicurean’ gave me the most satisfying quote:

“Those august hymns, he thought, must thereafter ever remain by him as among the well-tested powers in things to soothe and fortify the soul. One could never grow tired of them!”

What’s on My Nightstand

 

I must clarify that my nightstand is a bag of books, because I’m at my second son’s house helping out after the birth of Riley, his third son. And since babies trump books any day of any year, here is the handsome boy, our sixth grandson.

And here is a picture of my “nightstand.”

 

Yep. I think I brought 17 books with me. Some I’ve read, but need to copy parts into my commonplace book. Because a photo like the one above would drive me wild (I can’t see the titles, I’d be saying to my computer) here are a few on a tottering stack.

Let’s just work down this pile, shall we?

:: Frank Delaney’s Ireland ::   I had a hard time settling into this story in the print version. When I downloaded the audio book, I couldn’t leave the book.  Sometimes I read along, but mostly I used the book for a quick way to note sentences to copy later. If you love word origins, Delaney is your author. Beginning before Saint Patrick and going through the Easter Rising, the oral tradition of Ireland, intertwined with the narrative, make this a great read. I firmly believe that any Frank Delaney title must be heard. Delaney reads his own books, and with his background in broadcasting, his renditions far surpass any other “read by author” audio book.

 Then she polished [the battered boots] to a shine, and they stood inside the back door, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.  p. 58

:: Shakespeare’s Comedy Of Errors ::  Making good on my promise to fill in the gaps in my Shakespeare. I haven’t started yet, but I’m going to take a tip from my sister-in-law: read his plays in one sitting.

:: Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Girl ::  I recently engaged the services of a new financial adviser; within two minutes of our appointment we were talking books, and he gave this book to me. Nice, huh?

:: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables ::  This was December’s big read, but the book is not finished with me yet. I would like to go back and read some of the underlined parts again. And perhaps do a few more blog entries like this one.

:: Ronald Doah’s Fantastic Mr. Fox ::  I test drove this with my other set of boys. They loved it. I thought I’d try with these guys.

:: Larry McMurtry’s Roads : Driving America’s Great Highways ::    A travel book on driving the interstates was just enough quirky to capture my attention. This best reason to read this book is all the references to other travel books. The author states that he owns and has read three thousand travel books. And I will ever be grateful for McMurtry’s phrase, a skim-milk light.

:: Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way ::  Capitalizing on the momentum from Les Mis, I thought I’d tackle another huge French novel, the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past. This version is translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, about whom–and about the translation work– I read in Russell Kirk’s memoir, The Sword Of Imagination. I’m finding it tough sledding, but I’m plowing through hopeful for some happy rewards.

:: Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog ::  Another title from my new stockbroker. Any thoughts from you who have read it?

:: Lawrence Anthony’s The Elephant Whisperer ::  My friend Rachel sent this to me when she figured out I was hip deep in books on Africa. It looks delightful, and if I learn enough about elephants I can reckon it as a science read!

:: Linda Burklin’s This Rich & Wondrous Earth ::  A memoir of Sakeji School, a British boarding school in Zambia. Burklin captures the tension of trying to fit into a new environment and stay out of trouble. I’m only a few pages into this, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far.

:: Anthony Trollope’s Lady Anna ::  I listened to this Librivox recording on the six hour car trip up here. And I’ve fallen asleep listening to it every night. The plot and themes remind me of the very first Trollope I read, An Old Man’s Love , wherein after a (fatherless) young woman gives consent to a suitor, a more attractive man comes courting. Does keeping your word apply to an engaged couple? 

 

 So what about you? Whatchareading?