Reading Upstream-Poetry, Fiction & Biography

by | May 30, 2017 | Life & Faith, On Reading | 4 comments

When it comes to those things that bring me joy, I’m not sure whether I fancy birds or books more. Perhaps equally. I have books with ‘birds’ in the title melding those two—a love of reading and a fascination with my avian friends. There is much I learn from both—life lessons from the birds, echoing God’s message of carefree, trust-filled living and lessons in the lines of the many books that populate my home.

I often am reading many books at one time, as you can see in the photo.” There are many books that continue to engage me, but I will attempt to whittle down the list to include some of my current favorites.

  1. Fierce Convictions—The Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, Karen Swallow Prior-Biography

I first learned the name of Hannah More in the film ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006) about William Wilberforce and his campaign against the slave trade. There was a small part played by a feisty young woman named Hannah, whose name I catalogued for later. The later arrived with the release in 2014 of this book by Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University.

Hannah More’s life was set in the backdrop of Bristol, England in the early 1700’s, a historical period that was the height of the slave trade in Europe. I’ve only just begun reading how Hannah and her sisters started a school for women, an outright novelty for the day and age, as well as learning of the unheard of practice for her to spend time–imagine this–writing in a place of her own-mostly poetry. This particular privilege was made possible by the allowance of kind benefactor who was a previous suitor.

Hannah and I have much in common—a love of writing and reading and a background in education. Of course, the part we don’t share is an experience in opposing the slave trade. That tale is ahead of me in this book and I look forward to reading it.

  1. Parables of the Cross, Lilias Trotter-Devotion/Inspiration

I first read about the life of Lilias Trotter in her biography, A Passion for the Impossible. Lilias was another trailblazing woman; single, a missionary to the Muslims in Algiers, Africa in the early 1800’s and an astonishing artist who left a promising career to answer God’s call on her life.

The Parables of the Cross is a small picture book, for lack of a better word, with profound passages dealing with the believer’s walk of daily dying and finding new life in Christ. These rich words are accompanied by Trotter’s finely detailed nature studies illustrating the principles of which she is speaking. The painting reproductions included are taken from nature, depictions of flowers and plants native to the desert area where she lived, as well as drawings from her home area in England.

This quote illustrates her gift for finding truth in the ordinary world of beauty around her:

“The true, ideal flower is one that uses its gifts as means to an end; the brightness and sweetness are not for its own glory; they are but to attract the bees and butterflies that will fertilize and make it fruitful.”

Although The Parables is a small book as pages go, each paragraph is packed with depth and richness, causing me to pause along the way while reading.  I also look forward to reading the rest of this book.

  1. A Gathering of Larks, Abigail Carroll-Poetry

I first discovered Abigail Carroll on a website called Altarwork where I have had some poetry featured. I was humbled to be included in their work once I considered hers!  A Gathering of Larks is a book of poetry written in letter form to St. Francis of Assisi, a lover of nature in general and birds in particular. Assisi left a rich family heritage to become a fool for God, serving the poor and rebuilding churches.

Carroll makes some surprising connections between the life of Assisi centuries ago and the modern world of today, all of which are woven into her poetry.  A few weeks into the project, Carroll broke her foot, leaving her ample time to ponder, pray and write. These lines of poetry are taken from simply, ‘Dear Francis’

And now I have more time to write

these lines to you, Francis. I fear

for those who have no time to think,

no cause to pray. What do you say

to one who has never been broken?

To unfired, un-shattered clay?

With hope,


Although the poetry selections moved me a great deal, the words that spoke to me the most were her comments at the end of the book about the practice of letter-writing, one of which I am rather fond.  I’ll leave you to discover Carroll on your own-you won’t be disappointed!

  1. The Patch of Blue, Grace Livingston Hill-Fiction

I feel semi-embarrassed for mentioning this book as it fits the Christian Romance genre, which I loathe. Well, the contemporary ones at least. I found the book at Goodwill (my favorite place to purchase books) and was intrigued by the fact that the original publishing date was 1932!  I enjoy old stories for their language and perhaps anachronistic features which capture a more genteel time of life when people were kinder and life was simpler. Maybe?

Nevertheless, I am tickled with this fiction, weaving some drama and challenges into a life of faith lived out in challenging times.  It’s just a fun read—and I heard there are a lot more!

I’d be here all day giving you a written tour of the books in stacks, on tables and in baskets around my house. Perhaps a poem I wrote,  called “Book Report” will give you an idea what I mean.    I hope you’ll find some time to #ReadUpstream and tell me about it in the Comments.


  1. Jody, I’m fascinated by the term you’ve coined of #readupstream
    I look forward to hearing more. This is my first time on your site!
    Btw, I’m dying to read Fierce Convictions. That may be my summer read. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Thank you for reading Summer. My dear friend Kimberlee Ireton coined #ReadUpstream, not I. She gave me permission to spread the word. Smile. (Btw she is one of the speakers at Kris C’s retreat next spring. You can Google Kimberlee’s name and find more about her in her blog).

  2. My intention is to read more old books this year. And I also loved Fierce Convictions.

  3. Read Upstream is an intriguing plan. I enjoyed your thoughtful intros to several titles new to me, Jody. I’m going to look for Parables of the Cross. Abigail Carroll’s book delighted me earlier this spring. Rumer Godden is another earlier-times author I really like. Have you read her?


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