Some thoughts on reading
Lessons learned from intentional reading
Like many of us, I’m sure, I’ve been doing my best to find ways to stay engaged with what is happening in Ukraine, talking with my kids about it and realizing that we live our lives in the shadow of war, but we press onward. It’s hard to know how to live in this tension. The poem I share at the end has been helpful.
I also find this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer helpful:
5. For Peace Among the Nations
Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the
world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among
them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they
may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
January 1, 2019, on Facebook, a friend posted her reading summary from Goodreads for 2018. She had read 80 plus books in 2018 and set a goal to read more in 2019. Something clicked in my brain, and I took the challenge. I opened up my Goodreads, set my reading goal for 2019 at 52 books, and started reading.
I have always been a reader. In the daily-ness of having babies, then toddlers, I lost the plot line (so to speak) on my reading life. I was floundering, which I knew and didn’t know all at the same time.
With a few years of focused reading, I’ve learned some things about the reading life.
When I started reading more, my kids started reading more. This was an unintended outcome, but the one I’m most proud of. When they started seeing me read more and hearing about my goal and keeping track, they started reading more too. I realized a few months ago that both of my kids move through the world better when they have a good book. They carry books in the car, and I regularly “catch” them, each curled up on the couch on a weekend afternoon or before bed reading their books of choice.
“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” - Margaret Fuller
Delana Recommends: (11 years old)
The Bookshop of Dusk & Dreams by Mindy Thompson
Pig Hearted by Alex Perry
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
Reid Recommends (14 years old)
The Prodigy: A Novel by John Feinstein
Keeper of the Lost Cities (entire series) by Shannon Messenger
Fablehaven (entire series) by Brandon Mull
Reading takes a little bit of a plan. I read one or two books a week on average. What works for me is having several books going at one time. (I know, it’s not ideal for everyone, but hear me out!) I try to have one fiction book going at all times. I enjoy fiction, but if I lose the rhythm of fiction, it takes me a while to re-engage. I try to have my next book chosen before I finish. I feel no compulsion to finish any book. If a fiction book doesn’t catch my attention in the first chapter, I leave it and find something else. Do I miss some great books, probably, but life is too short to slog through a book that isn’t capturing my attention.
I have a non-fiction book (usually, it’s a book on spirituality, history, or leadership for me) that I’m reading at all times. These books are interesting and engaging. I consider these books my own “continuing education program.”
I also have a bedside book. It can be a book of poetry, a slow-moving non-fiction book, short stories, or something that just keeps me interested. (Right now, it’s Anthopocened Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green)
This year I have added a poetry book into the mix. My reading BFF (and life BFF too) has a goal to read a poetry book each month. I loved the idea, so I adopted it too. Poetry books are easy to get through and always lovely.
“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” - Malorie Blackman
The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo
Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Calbraith (pen name for JK Rowlings)
Where the Crawdads Gins by Delia Owens
Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Book of Hope by Jane Goodall
The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices by Christine Valter Paintner
In The Shelter: Finding a Home in the World by Padraig O Tuama
The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr
The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Chaos, Reorder by Richard Rohr
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver
What Kind of Woman: Poems by Kate Baer
How to Fly (in Ten Thousand Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver
E-reader vs. “real” books. I always have at least one digital book going. It’s easy to check out e-books from my library. An e-reader also means that I’m never without a book, so waiting in line, waiting for carpool, waiting at a coffee shop, I can just pull out my phone and read a page or two. I also love the highlight feature on an ebook. If it’s a book that I think I might highlight a lot, I might choose to read it via Kindle.
Books that I loved on Kindle
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic by Matthew Fox
One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer
Children’s literature is my go-to “reset” category. Finding a children’s lit book will usually get me back on track when I find myself in a fiction reading slump. I look towards Newbery Medal award winner or other books that have won awards as a place to start.
Some that I’ve loved:
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
The War the Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Words on Fire by Jennifer Nielsen (I didn’t love this when I read it, but I think about it all the time.)
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Keeping track of my reading has been a game-changer for me. I didn’t realize the power of keeping track of my reading. I use Goodreads to track and count what I have read. I refer to my list of books more than I ever thought I would. It’s a good reminder of what I’ve read. It also helps me see patterns. I only use Goodreads for books that I have read. I don’t have an active TBR (To Be Read) list. I am a go-with-the-flow kind of girl, and having a list feels too restrictive for me.
Have a reading pal. I talk almost every day with a friend about books. There is always a "reading update " in our daily check-ins. It’s fun to hear what she is reading, and sharing what I’m reading and what I am thinking about it helps me clarify what I like (and don’t like) about any given book.
A blessing for your reading life.
May you find books that challenge, delight, and soothe your soul. May your reading be a blessing to those around you through conversations, examples, and the gentle way words shape, strength, and enliven your soul
“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
― Ray Bradbury
Read a book! Start somewhere.
Start of list of books you’ve finished.
Share your favorite book on social media this week!
Diane Butler Bass shared this poem today in her newsletter The Cottage (I love her newsletter and her words. You can sign up for her free version, I have a paid subscription (a gift from a sweet friend!) and it’s wonderful too.
It’s hard being a citizen of the world today. These words helped me this morning and soothed my soul. I hope they might do the same for you…we must risk delight
A Brief for the Defense
by Jack Gilbert (1925–2012)
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.