When I was 12 years old I spent a lot of time reading in my bedroom. As the oldest of 5 children, hiding in the pages of a book where no one could find me was a favorite pasttime. It also kept me away from the hubbub of my siblings.
Two books that shaped me as a pre-adolescent, bookish big sister were Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1879) and Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter (1904). I loved Little Women because I so identified with the main character–Jo. Although my given name is Joanna, my mother always called me Jo; I liked it’s old-timey sound. Alcott’s heroine was also bossy (like me) and wanted to be a writer some day, as did I, although I didn’t know it at the time.
I identified with the story of Freckles, the orphaned boy who lived in a cathedral of trees, as I, too, had been orphaned in a sense. My birth father deserted our family when I was 5 and although my mother remarried, I spent the rest of my life looking for the man whose DNA was mine alone. Freckles was the first story I ever read where I understood the sense of a divine Creator who was intimately acquainted with my life.
To quote Thoreau, “How many a man (or woman) has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!” For me, it was Little Women and Freckles. Although Little Women is long gone, the copy of Freckles I had as a 12 year old sits quietly on my living room shelf. Inside, neatly inscribed under my name on the inside front cover, is the address of my house with the hideaway bedroom.
At their core, a good story will touch and shape us in ways we can oftentimes never explain. And there are so many good stories to choose from!
3 new books have just been released (on the same day!) to help you with What to Read Next. I’ll list each one below, but full disclosure, I have only read 2 of the 3 titles. So many books, so little time, right?
1. Anne Bogel–I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life
You may know Anne from her website and podcast as Modern Mrs. Darcy. She has always been about all things bookish and finally gathered her thoughts in this lovely volume. Here is a recap of “I’d Rather Be Reading” from the Publisher’s Website:
For so many of us, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to pass the time—it’s a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can’t imagine life without them. In this collection of charming and relatable reflections, beloved blogger and author Anne Bogel leads you to remember the book that first hooked you, the place where you first fell in love with reading, and all the books and moments afterward that helped make you the reader you are today.
I’d Rather Be Reading is the perfect gift for any bibliophile and will command an honored place on the overstuffed bookshelves of any book lover.
The link above underneath the cover photo will take you right to Anne’s page to order a copy.
2. Karen Swallow Prior–On Reading Well
Once upon a time I thought I might write a book about books and the way they’d shaped me. (I’d call it Book Report. So clever.) But Karen Swallow Prior wrote it instead. “Booked-Literature in the Soul of Me” was released in 2012 and I pored over the pages like a thirsty vagabond. The literature she discovered became a beacon for her own discovery of God and her journey resonated with my own.
Good stories can do that.
Fast forward to September 2018. If “Booked” was like an appetizer for a banquet, “On Reading Well” is the feast. The book’s tagline reads, “FINDING THE GOOD LIFE through GREAT BOOKS,” said books being divided into 3 sections.
The Cardinal Virtues–Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Courage,
The Theological Virtues–Faith, Hope and Love
The Heavenly Virtues–Chastity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness and Humility.
Through classical and contemporary selections, Prior takes readers on a journey of discovering the lessons in between the lines. ORW is a more academic read than I am used to–Prior is a college professor after all–and I confess to taking things very slowly. I can see chewing on these chapters v e r y slowly, but it would be worth the time! I will come back to On Reading Well again, I’m sure.
You can order Karen’s book HERE.
3. Sarah Clarkson–Bookgirl
I read way too much non-fiction. Always have; it must be the teacher in me, that desire to Know All The Things. But a visit to a gathering of Christian creatives this summer has opened my eyes to see the power of a good story to form us, not just inform. “All good stories lead to God,” my friend Laura used to say. I’m inclined to agree.
Enter Sarah Clarkson. As the daughter of author and mentor Sally Clarkson, founder with her husband of Whole Heart Ministries, Sarah was hugely impacted by her mother’s insistence as a child that she and her siblings read widely and read well. Now as a young mom, Oxford grad student and a prolific author, Sarah’s gift of enthusiasm about the power of a good story brings us this a breath of fresh air.
Bookgirl is a culmination of all she grew up with and believes passionately about being ‘storyformed.’ Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne, Tolkien and all 58 of the Nancy Drew books figure widely in Sarah’s childhood. There are so many other books that have formed Sarah’s life as a Christian and a voracious reader.
Discussing the term “Christian fiction,” Sarah cites the importance of discernment in reading wisely a n d widely. “Discernment has far less to do with creating an outward legalism than it does with cultivating our innermost hearts. Real discernment, I believe, springs from a heart so nourished by the true, the good, and the beautiful that what is evil simply cannot find room to root.” -from the Introduction
The timing of Bookgirl is helpful in this season as I’ve decided to add more fiction reading in my book repertoire. What it comes down to is searching for God’s kingdom–that invisible reality present between the lines of our visible world–and asking the Holy Spirit to show me the truth in the stories I’ve found.
Sarah’s book includes over 20 lists of books to begin one’s search. Lists like:
- Novels to Help Cope with a Broken World
- Books That Taught Me to Pray
- Books for the Church Year
- Poems That Opened my Eyes to Wonder
- Books about Imagination (Why You’re Never to Old for Narnia)
“Stories shape our existence because we recognize in a deep part of ourselves that life itself is a story. The tale of the world opens with a sort of divine “once upon a time,” or “in the beginning.” -from the Introduction
From my first reading of Freckles I would concur that God has been speaking His own “Once Upon a Time” story over me and into my life since I was born. I look forward to discovering what other books He has in store to show me more of His presence and His kingdom. My copy of Bookgirl has just arrived and there is a treasure chest inside–I can’t wait to dive in!
You can order your copy of Bookgirl HERE.
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