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1/05/2014

on reading in 2013 and 2014


Yesterday I cleared away our breakfast dishes, tossed clean laundry in the dryer, Swiffered the bathroom floor, then plopped down in the armchair to peruse Facebook for a few minutes. Perhaps I should have done my editorial work first, but my Facebook meanderings led to feasts of knowledge about good books. My friend Anna Tesch mentioned Eugene Peterson's newest collection of poetry, Holy Luck. I quickly added it to my to-read list on Goodreads. Laura Ortberg Turner mentioned a few books about anxiety on her blog. Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson caught my eye, but it doesn't release until October — I made a mental note to read it later in the year. I read several of Alissa Wilkinson's blog posts, including "A Year in Reading" and "Reading List for 2014." Alissa is one of the top 10 people who inspire me to read well. And so I also added This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett and Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch.

While adding to my ever-growing to-read list, I noticed an alert from Goodreads — Share the books you read in 2013. I hesitated because I recalled reading very little, but for the sake of honesty I clicked the link to find out just how meagerly I read last year. Nine books. Ouch. It was worse than I thought. But given the chaos of 2013 I wasn't that surprised. Before I touch on that lack of serenity, allow me to share a few highlights of the books that I did complete:

CMYK: The Process of Life Together by Justin McRoberts is an inspiring collection of letters, essays, song lyrics, and interviews with visual artists. I also had the immense pleasure of editing this book. All bias aside, I highly recommend it along with the accompanying EPs and full-length album. I interviewed Justin about his entire CMYK project for the Art House America Blog — all of these things are worth your time set aside for reading and listening.

The Exact Place by Margie L. Haack is hands-down one of the best memoirs I have ever read. It is exquisitely written, hilarious, and deeply moving. As the General Editor of Kalos Press I might seem biased once again, but truly, you must read this book.

Johnny took me on a date to an Imprint Khaled Hosseini reading downtown in September, which made me love And the Mountains Echoed (and Hosseini's other books) all the more. I could sit and listen to good authors talk about writing for hours and hours.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell — I really don't have the accurate words to describe this stunning novel. I read it upon the recommendation of a friend I met at Glen East 2012 (thank you, Emily). You can take Glen folks at their word when it comes to books, music, and visual art. My husband read this book several years ago and he, too, gave it high praise. It is sci-fi yet beautifully literary. It is the book I've pondered most in 2013 — the characters, the grand scope of the story, and the tragic ending have stayed with me closely ever since. Oh, Emilio Sandoz — I have not loved or ached more for a fictional character since I met Reuben Land in the pages of Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

Speaking of Peace Like a River, I decided to reread it in December 2013. It would have made my Goodreads book list for the year, but I've been reading it slowly, savoring every word. Anyone who knows me understands my passion for this book, but as rereading your favorites will do, I've swooned more dramatically during the second reading. I've laughed out loud (in bed while my husband was sleeping), squinted through tears in my eyes, and caught many insightful details I missed the first time around. In fact, I've enjoyed the art of rereading so much that after I read the sequel to The Sparrow — Children of God — I'm going to reread Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen since a recent online quiz revealed that in the world of fiction, I am Elizabeth Bennet. That's quite a compliment. I might even write about the art of rereading. We shall see.

Now, back to why I didn't read much during 2013. Basically, it was a year in which I wrestled with anxiety like never before. I've always been a worrisome creature, but this past year my fears almost consumed me. I was also dealing with some health issues, and my internal stress made these discomforts worse. I didn't truly live my life — it felt like I was watching it. And I was completely distracted from what is good, true, and beautiful — including books, which I've devoured ever since I read Heidi by Johanna Spyri at age 3. Books have been a consistent pleasure and blessing to me, and one of my best therapies.

Here at the start of 2014 I haven't made a list of resolutions. Rather, I have some pretty basic goals which could be written on a perpetual calendar:

* Trust God — set my eyes to Him like a flint, especially when I'm afraid.

* Be joyful and laugh. Be peaceful. Be thankful.

* Love my husband well.

* Love my family and friends well.

* Write regularly.

* Do good work, both editorially and in our home.

* Continue to learn the art of waiting.

* Take to learning and making with my hands — guitar, cooking, knitting, and so on.

* Read the Bible starting with Genesis. I'd say I've read 95% of the Bible, but I've never read it in the order it was published, cover to cover. I'm following my husband's lead here. He's full of great ideas.

* Read more good books — fiction, memoir, and poetry in particular. Theology, too.

I'm not about to say how many books I plan to read in 2014 — that's not what is important to me. I'm a slow reader anyway. But I can honestly say that 9 books is not my best effort. It's time to input more than I output. I spent so much of last year voicing my fears and complaining. This year I want to replace that kind of vapid speech with the Truth and good writing. And pick up a book any time I'm tempted to sit and worry, and, well, spend too much time on the social medias. Nothing against the latter — I just want the balance to tip more toward the tangible.

As for January 2014, I'm working on these 6 books, reading Genesis aloud, and looking forward to the aforementioned Children of God. Oh, also — an old, lovely book I pulled off our bookshelves last night which I gleaned from working at Half Price Books: Writers at Work (The Paris Review Interviews, 4th Series).

Tolle lege, my friends.


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