Tag Archives: #readupstream

3 Books About Books #readupstream

 

P_20180913_172559.jpgWhen 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.

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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

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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.

Karen Swallow Prior–On Reading Well

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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.

Sarah Clarkson–Bookgirl

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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.

Happy Reading!


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What I’m Reading–3 Top Picks for Summer

I hope you’ll find some time to read just for fun this summer, just for the enjoyment, inspiration and beauty of words. Here are my 3 top picks to consider–Poetry, Biography and Fiction.

Poetry–Poems to Learn by Heart, Caroline Kennedy, Editor

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I met Caroline Kennedy when she was in Seattle five years ago for April’s annual National Poetry Month. (“Met” is a relative term; see photo below.) The line to get into the enormous church snaked around the streetcorner but it was so worth the wait. Caroline  was animated and inspiring, regaling us with tales of how her grandmother made she and her brother John learn and recite poetry. How Uncle Teddy entertained the family with his memorization of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Poems to Learn by Heart is a lovely book to look at as well as read, full of remarkable illustrations. Sections include poems about friendship and love–with passages from I Corinthians 13 and Micah 6:8–as well as poems on family, school, sports and games. And because the book is for children, too, there are fairies and ogres and nonsense, some of which I enjoyed reading out loud to my grandchildren.

Here’s my post/poem about meeting Caroline.

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‘Caroline Kennedy’ (can you read that? Smile.)

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The closest I’ll ever be to royalty.

2. Biography–Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, 1967 Scholastic Edition

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“Those are red-letter days in our lives when we meet people who thrill us like a fine poem, people whose handshake is brimful of unspoken sympathy, and whose sweet, rich natures impart to our eager, impatient spirits a wonderful restlfulness which, in its essence is divine.

“The perplexities, irritations, and worries that have absorbed us pass like unpleasant dreams, and we wake to see with new eyes and hear with new ears the beauty and harmony of God’s real world.”

I re-read The Story of My Life last summer and was surprised as a grown-up to recognize the way Helen Keller’s faith in God shown through her words. I also enjoyed very much the description of Annie Sullivan as Helen’s teacher, and what it was like for Helen to go to college. We share a similar aversion to numbers, and her comments made me smile.

There is much to enjoy in this book–the description of nature, it’s sounds a n d “sights”–“reading” other people with a simple touch and “listening” with one’s hands.  This is a short book but full of rich words to savor. The Story of My Life is only $2.50 Amazon(!!) and also available FREE as a PDF from the American Federation for the Blind. Click here to download it.

The book was also made into a movie “The Miracle Worker” with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke as Helen. The movie was filmed in 1962 and Patty won the Academy Award for best actress that year; she was a mere 16 years old. If you click on the video in the blue highlighted link, you’ll find the sound to be a bit iffy, but I still like it better than a contemporary adaptation done by Disney in 2000 also available online free.

3. Fiction–Wonder, R.J. Palacio, Alfred Knopf, 2012

Wonder cover

School is officially out for the summer, and although I’m retired, I still mark time by the school calendar. When I was substuting as an elementary teacher, it seemed every other week there was at least one classroom where Wonder was the class readaloud. Of course, that meant I read only one or two chapters at a time and completely out of order, so I had no idea what the story was actually about. The illustration looked odd to me and I couldn’t ever get a straight answer to, “What’s the book about?”

I figured it was another wimpy kid’s book; you know, not actual literature, just some fluff. But Elementary school kids are always the first to know when anything cool is going on, especially when it comes to new books. After all, it’s because of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” that some  5th grade boys I know actually started reading.

R.J. Palacio (a sort of made-up name; more on that later) wrote Wonder in 2012. The book wasn’t on my radar again until the 2017 movie came out with Julia Roberts. She played the mom (Owen Wilson plays the father) and I definitely wanted to see it. But first I had to read the book.

I’m so glad I did.

Raquel Jaramillo, aka R.J. Palacio, was a children’s book editor and working with OTHER people as a cover designer for their books before she wrote Wonder. (Palacio is her mother’s maiden name.) If it wasn’t for a chance encounter at an ice cream shop with her kids in their New York neighborhood, the story of Wonder never would have been born. (Palacio tells the background of the book in her Preface.)

Wonder is told from different viewpoints, each one a person connected to Auggie Pullman, the main character.  Of course, the first person we hear from is Auggie, who tells us what it’s like to be him—a kid with severe facial abnormalities due to a very rare condition—Treacher Collins Syndrome.

Other sections are written by Auggie’s sister Miranda, two classmates Summer and Jack, as well as a section is written by Justin, Auggie’s sister Olivia’s boyfriend.

Like the Gospels, Wonder weaves together an entire life story via these alternating narratives. Through the weaving we learn about prejudice and the harm it can do, as well as the revelation that comes when people recognize and embrace their alikeness more than their differences. Embedded in the weaving are Mr. Browne’s Precepts, taken from the words of well-known writers, including John Wesley, Virgil, John Donne and Blaise Pascal.

If there’s one theme of Wonder, it’s to be kind. And to not judge a book by its cover. 

That’s a lesson that never goes out of season.


You can learn more about Treacher-Collins syndrome here.

 

 

 

#On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

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I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

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Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass.

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My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

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The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

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We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

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I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

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Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

How Books Saved Me

Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not the meals we partake of but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, to say the least. Rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by the basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. Although my stepfather was often either unemployed when I was growing up (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

But the meals that really saved me soul-deep were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.

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Nobody worried about ‘personal space’ when I was growing up—it would be decades before people considered that a thing. Whenever we traveled somewhere in Southern California circa 1960, we’d pile into the family station wagon, drawing invisible lines down the middle of the bench seat. Thus we claimed our personal space. There weren’t even seatbelts then to contain us.

Around the age of twelve or thirteen I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening. (Times were different then, yes they were). When I was in charge, I simply left my siblings to play on their own while I escaped into the pages of a good book. (No one died. We are all still friends.)

During the long, slow summer days when everyone was at home, if I wanted any peace and quiet at all, I retreated to my bedroom with a book. There, away from the clamor and chaos, I could dive into the pages of a story to take me far away. Books became my solace, shutting out the noise and distraction, leading me to a pleasant world full of kind and caring people. I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. I know this is the time that God planted the seeds of my love affair with words and writing.

One of those lovely books into which I escaped was Louisa May Alcott’s Rose in Bloom(c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s Eight Cousins. Rose in Bloom was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines I read sounded like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours.

I also fell in love with Alcott’s classic Little Women and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine-a stepfather-was often away somewhere drinking or gambling.

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

I discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s classic Freckles which became like a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of quiet wonder.  Freckles crafted a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes.

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him (as my birth father had when I was five). Freckles had no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost Forest. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, God’s existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away. This longing planted the seeds of my search for a father who would never leave me; it would be years before my discovery came true.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney, 1881.

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.” 

(from the book jacket)

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure. Another classic was The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all these ‘bells’, the resonating tune I heard was God’s song calling me through tales of beauty, peace and provision, feeding my soul and tuning my heart to hear His voice. My friend Laura says that “every good story leads to God” and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t have ears to hear until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart.

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language illuminating that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, the Source of all I need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; they carry me still to this day.

What books have carried you? I’d love to hear in the Comments

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This is an edited version of  post which appeared in August 2015 for the blog link-up “Literacy Musing Mondays.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

May, March and April in Books #ReadUpstream

In keeping with the inauguration of the #ReadUpstream movement, I’m going to speak a little about what I’ve been reading and maybe entice you to do your own reading ‘upstream’; i.e. choosing classics and good books that speak to your heart, even if no one else is reading them. More about the origin of #ReadUpstream is here.

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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, which is why the title of this post is “March, April and May in Books.” 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

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.

Continue reading

Summer is for Reading

“The heart has its own time. How incredibly fleet are the happy hours, and how leaden slow the sad ones.  The clock cannot hurry the sorrowful minutes a jot, nor clip the wings of the joyous ones!”

Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Seasons

When I was twelve years old I ran away. Well, not literally; I just hid in my room away from my four brothers and sisters and all the noise of summer.  I wanted a quiet place alone, an escape from my all-too-ordinary life, into another more peaceful one full of beauty and kindness.

Not that my siblings were markedly mean in anyway, but when I was in charge, as I often was, there were a lot of moving parts—we didn’t always fit each other. I, the bossy big sister (a ‘grown up’ 12 years old) and my younger charges—ages 7 to 11–were always getting into one scrape or another. All I wanted was peace and quiet and a place to feed my soul instead of making bologna sandwiches to feed everyone else.

The best place to find my escape was in the pages of a book. 

I can still remember lying on my bed with “Little Women,” Louisa May Alcott’s story written (I thought) just for me. Why? The heroine-Jo (my mother’s nickname for me) was not only the oldest, but  the bookish one—we were exactly alike. Well, except for the long dresses and bustles…

The pages of “Little Women” afforded me a get away like no other. Lying on the bed in our humble Southern California house I was transported to a world of make believe and dress-up, parties, plays, and my favorite—for I wanted to be a writer,too—the pages of the Pickwick Portfolio.

Alcott’s “Rose in Bloom” caught my fancy next, a story of a young girl and her beaux, a coming-of-age story that resonated with my almost-13-year-old soul.

Gene Stratton Porter’s  “Freckles” was another favorite; I still have my copy, Joanna Lee Ohlsen written in cursive on the right inside cover. My own father left us when I was 5; we were being raised by my stepfather at the time. I think there was something in my spirit that was looking for a place to belong, a connection of sorts that Freckles needed as well. And of course, there was his ‘cathedral.’ All these years later it’s clear there were many sacred echoes in that story.

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This summer is no different. I have my bookstacks all ready. The ‘vacation’ pile—for our 2 week trip to see relatives in New York (but who am I kidding? Will I even have time?)

And there’s the California stack for my week with my sisters…a little more low key; plus, there’s beach time, hence book time.  I might make more progress.

Whether I read these choices in the next summer-y months or into the Fall, the lure and escape of  good literature is always there. My favorites are authors like Elizabeth Goudge, George MacDonald, Gladys Taber, writers from over 60 years ago who somehow seem to mine deeper and richer words than those writers of today.

Someone has said that all good stories lead to God, which is why I still like to get lost in the pages of a book, listening for those sacred echoes.

What are you reading this Summer?