So, Whatcha Reading?
By Celeste Conner on January 13, 2014
I’ve always been a reader. But life shakes us about, so some seasons I crawl into book after book and sometimes I feel I can’t spare the minutes or the emotions to read more than magazines and the newspaper. Last year, I read about a million blogs, because I wanted to learn about that. I like the satisfaction of the quick read, but it does not bring to me the pure joy that closing a book does. As much as I delight in touching books and smelling books, I have succumbed to an e-reader, and I delight in that as well. I take it with me everywhere I go. It’s like toting a library. And I can’t think of a thing wrong with that.
When the kids were young, I mostly read books to them or about how to parent them. Emma was in Mr. As class in 5th grade. Near the beginning of the year, he overheard me talking to another mom about juvenile literature. He asked me if I would like to join him in Accelerated Reading. He read and tested for points every year, and he had always wanted to have a parent participate as well. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. As a 5th grade parent, I would have to accumulate 175 points to earn a trophy for the year. I read and tested on everything from Junie B. Jones (with 1st grader Phillip) to Harry Potter. (If you do not know Junie B., I suggest you meet her. Her charming books take about 30 minutes to read. You will laugh a lot and even learn a little about how to treat your friends.) I refreshed my memory on Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and tested on them, too. By the May deadline, I squeaked by with 177.1 points. (Unbelievably, Mr. A had the exact same score.) Actually, I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and didn’t test on it. It was worth about 40 points, and I would have ended with a higher score than Emma. (I was nowhere near reaching uber-reader Abby’s score, who was in a classroom across the hall.) I didn’t test on it, because she asked me not to. The 5th grade boys could not wrap their competitive minds around the fact that I was choosing NOT to win. They questioned my sanity every time they saw me--and encouraged me to test on it anyway.
Not long after, I met Mary. She had been in a book club while she lived in Memphis. She searched for one to join when she moved to Dothan and couldn’t find one. As she met friends, she listened for who loved books and started her own. (What a chick!) I joined Mary’s motley crew of readers about six months after they started. Phillip was in the 4th grade, and coincidentally in Mr. As class, so that was fall of 2008.
We are such book geeks that we talk about the book we read as a group, and then we talk over each other about the books we read individually. This has been a great delight in my life, and I never asked for it nor even desired it. I just stumbled into it. (Thanks, Mary.)
But enough about me. Let’s talk about books.
Below is my list of the books that I read in 2013. I pinkie promise that I won’t reveal any secrets. I’ll just give an overview and maybe a thought or two, so you can see if any of these books interest you. And maybe you’ll suggest a book or two to me.
Book Club Books
Each member of our book club takes a turn choosing the book to read. (We try to meet every month, but we never do.) We seem to read a lot of emotionally heavy books. We complain about how heavy the books are and then choose another heavy book. This is an aspect that I enjoy about book club. I am stretched by the choices of the other members. Most of the books they choose, I would never have read on my own, but I am usually glad I did, and I never feel I have wasted my time. (FYI, rarely do I like Mary’s pick.)
We unintentionally have read many, many books set in WW2 or soon after. None of us is sure why. Maybe WW2 is a literary trend right now, since we are still close enough in history to be intrigued by it, but not close enough for it to cause too much personal pain.
City of Women by David Gillam was the only WW2 book that we read in 2013. It is set in Berlin. Sigrid Schroder’s husband is away at war, and she lives with her mother-in-law who hates her. She accidentally gets involved in hiding Jews, but it becomes her purpose.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Father is a Southern Baptist preacher who takes his wife and 4 daughters to the Congo for one year in 1961. He is overbearing, dogmatic, and abusive. The five females expect to merely bide their time until they can return to Georgia. The Congo gains independence from Belgium that year and the country is in turmoil. The family is told to leave, but Father won’t.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a sweet story set in sadness. A teenaged girl with incurable cancer has a romance with an athletic cancer survivor who has lost a leg. Cancer invades every second of their days and of those who love them. They set out on a great adventure together. (A movie based on the book will be released in 2014.)
12th of Never by James Patterson was too violent for me. And I couldn’t relate to the cop mama who went back to work when her sick baby was one month old. But it was fast-paced and interesting. I see why other people enjoy his writing. In fact, one in our group liked it so much, she went back to the beginning of the Women’s Murder Club series and read them all.
My Book Club Peeps also read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but I couldn’t stomach another heavy book at the time, so I opted out.
Basically, our only rule about picking a book is Pick a Book You Haven’t Read. I amended that rule to Or at Least in 20 Years. When I joined the book club, I appointed myself as the classics picker. Typically, everyone picks newer releases. There are so many books that we missed along the way or that we need to revisit that I always pick an older book. In years past, I have chosen for us to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Sense and Sensibility, and The Prince of Tides. This year, I picked All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. It is the first in the series of the real-life tales of the English country vet. Even the doubters enjoyed this gentle and funny, old-fashioned story.
The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom is about the first phone call from Heaven. This is his second fiction book. As a group, we read his Have a Little Faith. I also read Tuesdays with Morrie. If you’ve never read Mitch Albom, read Have a Little Faith. I will re-read it at some point. He shares uncomplicated truths learned from his friendships with a Jewish rabbi and a Christian preacher.
My School Reading
I loved reading out loud to my children, but now they are “too old.” Or are they? Phillip still has school reading to do and doesn’t love to read. He procrastinates and complains and whines and moans. So, rather than fuss at him and argue with him about getting his reading done, I just read it to him. He lies beside me for days on end with his head or his feet in my lap. He listens; we talk about the book; he passes the test. And I can’t think of a thing wrong with that.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
I wouldn’t choose to read a book about dwarfs, a dragon, a wizard and an adventure own my own. But I enjoyed every word. I’ve even seen the two movies.
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died, Grandpa married Miss Love Simpson, who was young enough to be his daughter. It is set in Cold Sassy, Georgia (which is modeled on Commerce, Georgia) in 1918 and told in first person by 14-year-old Will Tweedy. It drips with deliciously simple Southern splendor. For me, it ranks with To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind.
I Tend To Read Thematically: A pretty way of saying, “The OCD takes hold of me and won’t let me move on until it thinks I’m done.”
BY RICK BRAGG
All Over But the Shouting
Rick and his brothers were abandoned by his abusive father, who died when he was a teenager. With help from her family, his mama worked hard to take care of her boys. He wrote this book to praise her and honor her.
His grandfather died the year before Rick was born, yet his reputation lingered, and he was a large presence in Rick’s life. His name was Charlie. He was a bootlegger who liked to sample his own creation, who worked hard in during the Depression, who loved his children and his wife (who might be diagnosed as bi-polar today).
The Prince of Frogtown
Rick felt he had written a one-dimensional version of his father in All Over But the Shouting; however, he only knew one dimension of him. So, he interviewed his people: cousins and friends who knew the man before Korea haunted and alcohol controlled him. Rick transitioned the chapters about his father with stories of his developing relationship with his new stepson.
Don’t pick up one Rick Bragg book, unless you can commit to the trilogy, ‘cause you won’t want to put them down. All three are set on the north Alabama/Georgia border near Jacksonville, Alabama, from pre-Depression to current day.
BY PHILLIP YANCEY
Instead of reading Yancey’s books on my Nook, I bought real copies of both of these, so I could channel my mama and mark ‘em up.
The Jesus I Never Knew
Yancey starts at the beginning and tries to tell the story of Jesus as if he didn’t know how it ended. Who was he? What would I have noticed? Why did he come? What did he leave behind? What difference did he make?
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
Yancey dissects prayer for his own answers and takes the reader along the journey. He looks at the prayers of Jesus and others in the Bible and throughout history. He searches many religions and different Christian denominations. He notes, “Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer and more time actually praying” then proceeds to ponder. Why pray? What to pray? Does it change God?
It is a 350-page book with small print. It was not an easy read. I cherished it for several months. I’ll probably read it again one day.
BY BLOGGER MOMS
Both are fun, easy, take-the-blues-away kind of books.
Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle
She is a Texas girl who shares about her adventures with her BFF and their children.
A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet by Sophie Hudson
She is a Mississippi girl who lives in Birmingham, loves Mississippi State, and tells tales about sharing fried food with her people around her grandmama’s table.
After the movie Lincoln, I wanted to know about the man Lincoln.
Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
This is the only book I listened to this year. I listened to it on my way home from dropping Phillip at camp. It was horrifying and fascinating. Bill O’Reilly read it in his announcer voice and counted down the days to Lincoln’s murder. Don’t read this one. Listen to it.
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
It is a middle-school book. I bought it at a book fair for Phillip a couple of years ago and pulled it off of his bookcase. It begins with the assassination and recounts the two-week manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. (Manhunt is the name of the adult book of the same story.)
I don’t think I learned what I wanted to know. I want to know more of Lincoln’s LIFE not his death. How did he become the man of character that he was? What shaped his wisdom and his compassion? What would have happened to our country had a lesser man been our leader? I think about the verse from Esther 4:14: And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?
Front-Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins
AJ and Eugene were life-long friends. Eugene is dying of cancer and AJ is looking after him—a gloomy subject but an engaging read. The story moves forward and flashes back through their friendship. AJ is married to Maggie, whose full name is Margaret Mitchell. All the children in the Smith family line are named after great authors from mama Jane Austen to baby James Joyce (JJ).
It is set on the north Alabama/Georgia line, just like Rick Bragg’s books and Cold Sassy Tree, which is a complete and fun coincidence that I read them all this year. (It is also where Phillip goes to camp.)
Forever, Erma is a compilation of the best of Erma Bombeck. I read several of her books as a teenager, which is odd, since she wrote about being a housewife (later upgraded to homemaker then again to stay-at-home mom). I loved re-reading her after two decades of being a housewife/homemaker/SAHM (and never caring what it was titled). Her situations are occasionally dated (she and her husband share a car; her children listen to radios and record players), but her wit and wisdom are timeless. (That last sentence is cliché but true. And so was that sentence.)
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
In 1993, Neil White was sent to prison in Louisiana for one year for mismanagement of about $500,000. After he arrived, he discovered the prison was also the last leper colony in the United States. He left as a changed man (with all his fingers and toes intact).
The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs
I try to read a Christmas book every December. Other than her children’s books, I had never read Liz Curtis Higgs. The Christmas story seems to be all about the men: the shepherds, the wise men, the evil king. This book is about Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna: an old woman, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman, who all were anxious for the Savior.
Lean Forward by Laurel Griffith provides practical, biblical advice for seeking God and changing one’s attitude in unwelcome situations. We can mope and pout, or we can find purpose in the pain and salvage the situation.
1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp
In the midst of the pain, the discouragement, and the loneliness, count your blessings. Literally, make a list. Eucharisteo. BEFORE every miracle, Jesus gave thanks.
Already Either on My Nook or On My Bedside Table
The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
I’ve never read a novel by Miss Welty, and I am ashamed of myself for that. I began Losing Battles years ago, but I never finished it. I figure her Pulitzer Prize winning book is a good place to start.
A bunch of Beth Moore books that I downloaded for free
I’ll let you know in a year which ones I read.
Moonrise by Cassandra King
She's my cousin!
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
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