As those of you who’ve been visiting here for more than about six months know, one of my favorite things to do is read. And when I say read, I don’t mean magazines or newspapers. I don’t mean websites or blogs. I mean books. There is something about a book, the heft and feel of the thing, the scent of the paper, the look of the black ink on the white paper, that makes me happy. Add in the wonder of what a book is (a small paper container for explosives of all kinds) and I start to get weepy with joy.
Which is why I am such an avid reader of books. I read them to myself. I read them to my kids. I even read them in the car by listening to them on CD.
And I really, really, really want other people to read more books. Especially parent people and teacher people and any other people who work with younger people. Put down your devices (including whatever you’re using to read this post) and pick up a book. Please.
If you feel the need for a helping hand as you look for good books to read on your own or with your kids, may I suggest that you subscribe to Living Books Library? My friend Liz Cottrill writes a weekly post in which she talks about the value of books and reading, recommends good books, shares her reading adventures, and answers parents’ questions about raising readers. I cannot tell you how encouraging and inspiring I have found her blog over the past five years. I’ve become a better reader in part because of Liz.
To add my own small contribution to the world of books and reading, here’s a list of the books we finished in June. My hope is that you’ll find a book that sounds interesting to you and check it out of the library. (Or buy it? Maybe? Support an author?) And then read it.
Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs. Between this book and Paddle-to-the-Sea (below), we got a great education in upper midwest geography this month. The story follows young Chris Dahlberg as he fells trees and pilots them from northern Minnesota down to St. Louis. A fascinating look at life on the upper Mississippi in the 1830’s.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. My five-year-olds loved this book, and my older kids and I liked it, but I have to admit it’s kind of weird. Not as weird as Alice in Wonderland, but strange enough that I now know why I never managed to finish it as a child. As a read-aloud, though, it worked really well. Especially if you can swing a brisk English accent for the eponymous nanny. (Caveat lector: this book was originally published in 1934, and there is one chapter in particular that contemporary readers may find culturally insensitive.)
Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright. We enjoyed Gone-Away Lake so much in May that we turned right around and read this sequel in June. Both books are delightful tales of summers gone by. In Gone-Away Lake, Portia and her cousin Julian discover a stash of (mostly) abandoned mansions at the edge of a marsh (which used to be a lake, hence the title) and so meet Mrs. Cheever and her brother Mr. Peyton, a charming old pair who live in two of the less dilapidated houses. Rich with captivating characters and enough adventure to hold a tween boy’s interest, these books have been a highlight of my summer.
Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery. I will confess that this has long been my least favorite of the Anne books. But reading it again, out loud, to my kids, I wondered why. Rebecca Dew is as endearing a character as you’re likely to meet, Katherine Brooke’s turnaround is heart-warming, romantic relationships abound, and Anne even has a chance to disavow codependence. At several points in the book I realized just how wise and insightful Montgomery is; she knows people, and she paints them in all their quirky splendor.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. I never grow tired of Pooh. I’ve probably read this book six times now, and every time it charms me. Milne is a master story-teller and wordsmith. He understands children and childhood and how to use words to great effect. He is funny and poignant and witty and wonderful, and his characters are wonderful, too. (But please if you’re going to read Pooh, you simply must read the Milne books and not the godawful Disney ones. The difference between the two is like the difference between Pride and Prejudice and that Austen zombie book that flashed in the pan a few years back. One is great literature. The other is horse apples.)
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Every Christian should read this book. It was written at a time in history very different than our own, so its emphases are very different. There is little about the love of God in this book and much about His holiness and judgment against sin. Bunyan’s book shocked me awake to a very different vision of God, or at least a different angle of vision, one I think is a helpful corrective to our current vogue for easy love and cheap grace that is merely a gimcrack version of these most profound realities. Beyond this, it’s a good story, with vibrant images of the spiritual life, not to mention all the literary allusions you’ll finally know the source of.
Kingdom of Love by Hannah Hurnard. This book scoured me. Between it and Pilgrim’s Progress, I suddenly saw not a few of my cherished personality quirks for what they are: sin. They separate me from God. They keep me gazing at myself and What I Want instead of laying that aside and letting God be God in my life. I’ve been slowly uncovering some of these things for the past few months (years…decades…), but this book full-on ripped the scales from my eyes. Amazingly, it’s all about God’s love and about becoming a conduit for God’s love. But it minces no words: we cannot be channels of God’s love if we are steeped in ways of being that block Him from working in us and through us. Hard stuff. But very, very good.
Songbird by Helena Sorensen. The final book in the Shiloh trilogy, a fantasy series about a world shrouded in shadow, with so many wonderful theological images and ideas I don’t even know where to start. I wrote a bit about the first book, Shiloh, back in January. The second book was even better. And this third book made me cry—twice. I was ready to raise my sword and ride into battle beside these brave and beautiful people. Sorensen writes like the wind: her prose is beautiful; her world, richly imagined and finely wrought. (Bonus: She appreciates my wit and vivacity (actually, it was just my Princess Bride allusions, but whatever). The bottom line is, she agreed to be on the blog next week, talking about Shiloh and her new book, Half-Bald Hill. She’s smart and funny and thoughtful and you won’t want to miss it. So y’all come back, y’hear? Also, go buy her books. Support an author, remember?)
Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Sometimes you just need to laugh. When that happens I turn to good ole Uncle Pelham. He’s a hoot and a half. And so is his inimitable narrator Bertie Wooster. The way those two old birds use language! It’s positively corking. “Biffy was jumping about like a lamb in the springtime—and, what is more, a feeble-minded lamb.” Topping, what? Sometimes I laugh so hard I cry.
Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling. I’m including this book, even though it’s shortish and heavily illustrated because it takes about an hour and a half to read out loud to five-year-olds, which makes it a two- or three-sitting book. And also because it’s so dang good. It’s a geography book, folks, and I wish all geography books were so appealing. It follows Paddle-to-the-Sea, a small wooden Indian in a canoe, from his young carver’s home in Nipigon Country (Ontario) through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean. A bit of history and industry and a lot of geography are wrapped in this tale of adventure.