Monday, March 15, 2010

the year in books: the book drought

****Lame blogger's note:  In the "mission accomplished" post from last Monday, I mentioned that my Lost-obsession had led to the neglect of several half-finished post drafts.  Presented here is the first of what should be many survivors, finally rescued from neglect and allowed to see the light of day. ****

I feel completely lame that I haven't read anything since that tiny little Twilight parody a month ago.

Nightlight: A Parody
The Daily Bible: New International Version: With Devotional Insights to Guide You Through God's WordI feel even lamer that blogger lost the two or three paragraphs I wrote the other night on this topic and only kept that lame first sentence, and I know I'll never be able to recreate them as gloriously as the original writing. I remember that I blamed blog-reading for taking away some of the urgency from my need to read.  And I made other excuses and justifications.  I have been reading the Daily Bible (except for the part where I told you how behind I am), and I read some picture books in storytimes a couple weeks ago.
But reading so little (I've completed only two books since January 1 though I've started more than that) is completely unlike me.  Over the past couple of years, I have been reading less and less, and though I can pinpoint the things that are taking up more of my time, I don't exactly know why I'm choosing to devote less time to books. I'm not blaming Jess, but reading at home is harder than it used to be.  When I lived alone, I read so much more and tended to lose all sense of time and responsibility.  But Jess and I watch certain shows together as a family, and we talk to each other sometimes.  We distract each other, and time for getting completely lost in print is harder to come by.  And I think I watch more tv than I did a few years ago, and that commitment eats into my time significantly as well.  And the internet addiction certainly doesn't help, but that's a therapy topic for another day.
I have several books right now that I want to read.  I've had several books lately pass out of my hands because I didn't get them started before they were due back at the library.  And one day very soon (after I pack up and move all my possessions to a new home), I'm going to stop whining about not reading and just read instead.  But not today.  Today I'm going to talk about books that I love and make a list.

The ten most important books/series of my life:

    The Babysitters Club:  Go ahead and mock.  Laugh your fill.  My feelings will not be hurt.  Let me tell you, imaginary reader, about young Ellen.  She didn't like to read, and in her elementary school she went to the library with her class every third day and was expected to check out a book.  This did not please young Ellen.  So after she read all the Garfield books that were in her school library, she was forced to read books with actual words and such.  One day, someone, probably her sweet-voiced school librarian Mrs. Beck, put Kristy's Great Idea into her third-grade hands.  And the rest is history.  Today old Ellen works in a library, has a useless degree in English, and has a relationship with words that began right there, in that third floor school library with Ann M. Martin and the girls of the BSC.

    Lonesome Dove I can't remember exactly when I read this book for the first time, but I think it was in the neighborhood of sixth or seventh grade.  I'd seen the miniseries a couple years earlier and loved the story and characters already.  But this reading experience taught me that the book is always better than the movie, and with very few exceptions, that's a lesson that has stood the test of time.  It's hilarious and sad, full of horses and cattle and cowboy goodness, life and death, snakes and Indians and guns, and characters that will always live for me.  I will say that though the miniseries has its share of grit, it's still something that was made for tv in the 80s.  The book itself is grittier, more vulgar, more real, perhaps more than my twelve-year-old self was strictly ready for.  But in addition to garnering more knowledge about late 19th century western whoring (yes, I just said whoring, hope you weren't letting your kids read the blog) than a seventh grade girl probably needs, I really think this was the first book that showed me how deeply I could be moved by characters, that I could feel their joys and suffer their losses and care so completely about words on paper.  My love for this epic story that has survived several re-readings and about eighteen years.  Lonesome Dove also had the distinction for a year or so of being the longest book I had read at 969 pages.  But I read my moma's copy of Gone with the Wind in seventh or eighth grade, which is lovely 1037 pages, but I don't think it's making the list here.  Consider this sentence its honorable mention.

    Daring to Dance With God: Stepping into God's EmbraceDaring to Dance with God From 1992-1996, I went to Uplift, a church camp at Harding with Robyn and sometimes some other folks.  For most (all?) of those years, Jeff Walling was a featured speaker.  We were and are fans.  The year this book came out , he talked about some of the ideas from the book at Uplift.  And he signed copies, so of course, we bought them.  This is maybe the first book about being a Christian I ever read (not counting the Bible), and it was a huge and important deal in my life.  There are phrases and images that still come to me that I first encountered through Jeff Walling.  And though I didn't learn this from the book, Jeff Walling is solely responsible for teaching me the Beatitudes in the right order.

    The Harry Potter Complete Collection Books 1-7 Boxed SetHarry Potter I would like to be able to tell you that I was with Harry Potter before he was cool.  My dearest wish is to say that I read the first book in 1998 (or even better the British version in 1997) and had a hand in spreading the gospel of HP from the beginning.  It would thrill my soul to not be a bandwagon jumper.  But, alas, in truth, I never intended to read the books.  Ever.  In my defense, I was in college when the first books were released, and I wasn't reading much children's lit.  I also frequently proclaim that I don't like fantasy.  So though I had some friends who were ahead of the trend and reading them, I was staunchly opposed for a long time.  But in 2001, the first movie was released, and in the time leading up to it, lots and lots of my friends were hyped up, and my resistance was wearing down.  I knew, based on the hype, I wouldn't be able to live in the world and not be bombarded with spoilers, so if I was ever going to read them, the time was now (uhh . . . then).  So I read the first four books in a ridiculously short amount of time, and it changed my life.  The story consumed me.  I love a big story, and I love meaty characters.  And though it made me insane, I loved the anticipation of waiting for the end of the story.  I was terrified of Deathly Hallows because there was so much riding on the ending, for me.  I had six years wrapped up in this world, and it could have been heart-breaking.  And it was, in some ways, but it was also very right for me, in most ways.  It was always going to be hard to get to the end, and I knew that beloved characters would have to die.  But overall, I'm satisfied with the ending.  I reread (and relisten to) the entire series on a regular basis.

    Pride and Prejudice Sadly, I can't remember the first time I read P& P, but it was either high school or college.  I had seen and loved the BBC miniseries version (the Colin Firth one) and based on the recommendations of book folk that I trust, I read it.  And it's lovely.  The language is so dense and formal that it creates a reading experience very unlike a lot that I read.  I've read all the other Austens (I think) too, but P&P remains my favorite.  I love Elizabeth Bennett, but who doesn't?  All of the sequels, spin-offs, or retoolings of the book are a testament to its quality.  The number of people who feel such an attachment to this story that they need to write a companion to it, is somewhat staggering to me, but clearly there's an audience for them or they wouldn't get published at such an alarming rate.  I'll admit that I've read several of the knock-offs through various stages of my Jane Austen obsession, but Bridget Jones's Diary is definitely my favorite of these and one of the few that can stand on its own.  Some of them are pretty horrific, especially the ones that are sequels.  It's a dangerous thing to mess with the lives of beloved characters, and you better have your history and style down if you're going to attempt period fiction.  But the point I'm trying to make is Pride and Prejudice is awesome.  It fills my soul.

     Confessions of Georgia Nicolson I picked up the first book in this series  (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging) the summer of 2002 when I was teaching two sessions of summer school.  The young miscreants under my tutelage were supposed to spend a certain amount of time reading, and I decided to model good reading skills for them, so I borrowed this book from the junior high library.  As it turns out, it wasn't a great book for modeling sustained, silent reading because I couldn't read it silently.  I guffawed, loudly, lots--an embarrassing amount, actually.  Then I got Robyn to read it, and Hailey and Mo have read it too.  It's forged a bond amongst us all.  The main character Georgia is a British teenager, who tells the story through her diary.  It's hilarious and crazy, with addictive catch-phrases and a glossary, that is allegedly supposed to decipher all the British-isms for the American readers.  There are ten books in the series, and it's nonstop fun.  It'll have you laughing like a loon on loon tablets, like a laughing loon from Loonland.  It's as funny as three funny things.  Plus it'll help decipher the nonsense that I say.

    The Complete Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, ... Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside)Anne of Green Gables Oh, how I love these books.  I've been reading and rereading them for years, and they still have the power to make me laugh and cry and get wrapped up in the world of Prince Edward Island.  In general, I'm a huge fan of series of books.  I tend to get immersed in stories and attached to characters, and if there are multiple books in which I can delve into that world and meet up with those characters, so much the better.  One of the things I love about Anne and Marilla and Matthew and Gilbert and everyone else here is that at the heart, the characters are all so good.  Just good, kind people, and though spite and malice and hardship come to call, the goodness of these characters I love shines through.  It's a balm to my soul.  The later books focus on Anne and Gil's kids, and they are just as delightful and funny and kind and likely to get into scrapes as Anne herself.  Oh, how I love them all.

    On Beyond Zebra! (Classic Seuss)On Beyond Zebra This is another book with an Uplift connection.  We went to a class one year called "On Beyond Zebra."  I think we picked the class because the title amused us--that's how we usually picked.  Until about two minutes ago, I was completely confident I knew the name of the guy that taught it, but now I'm feeling uncertain.  I think it was Mark Miller.  Robyn will correct me if it wasn't him.  Anyway he used this lesser-known Dr. Seuss book as a jumping off point for the class, where we talked about going beyond the ordinary and stuff.  It was a really cool class, and I've had a special love for the book ever since.  Plus Dr. Seuss is awesome.  Besides being a big bunch of fun to read, there are some pretty interesting themes in a lot of his books. There's a really empowering message here about not accepting easy answers.

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time There was a span of about six years when I was a faithful Entertainment Weekly subscriber.  As such, I felt very strongly that it was important to get my money's worth by reading the magazine from cover to cover.  That was my first experience with influential book reviews.  I was influenced by other EW reviews and features also, but once I started working at a bookstore and the library, I went on a mission to read any book whose review intrigued me.  And that's how I met this book, back in 2003.  The narrator is a British teenager with autism who solves mysteries, sorta.  It wouldn't matter what Christopher (the main character) was up to in this story, because how it's told is so much more important than what's told, in this case.  It was a book unlike anything I'd read before.  Talking about it has made me want to reread it so much, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a book.

    Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian SpiritualityBlue Like Jazz  I read this one a few years ago on a recommendation from Mac, cousin, theologian, scholar, and number one blog fan. The subtitle for the book is "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality."  The only five word synopsis that better describes it is perhaps "funny guy's encounters with God."  Not that it's all funny . . . Miller's journey to faith has some twists and turns, and he's asked some hard questions.  And the answers are sometimes challenging.  But challenging can be a good thing, and reading this book and being challenged by it was certainly one of the better decisions of my reading life.  I got Miller's latest book for Christmas, and if I don't change my mind, it will be the next book I start.

    *****Lame blogger's note:  All of the cover art here matches my copies of these books.  That, for some reason, was extremely important to me and severely affected the speed with which this post was constructed.*****


    1. Dang Playa!! When you bring the heat, you bring the heat! A list of top ten favorites, a blog about books some of which I've actually read, and a couple of flattering descriptions of me! My day is officially made. It's too late to write a real comment about the post, but I'll catch you tomorrow and share the story about how I read Lonesome Dove my sophomore year of college mostly during Mike Ireland and Owen Olbright's Bible classes, and how a certain really sad part involving a little Indian boy, a spear, and a man who was never one to give up on a garment just because it had a little age to it all came together in the middle of class. I started tearing up and thinking to myself. "This is sort of funny. I bet that the teacher thinks I'm really moved by his lesson today, but in truth I haven't really been paying attention much.

      So, I guess I'll come up with another story since I sort of went ahead and told that one anyway.

      You know that I'll be posting my list in response to this. Here's one book on the list that might surprise some folks.

    2. I love your list and the way you give reasons for each book. I have never read several of your top picks. Maybe I will one day. I wonder what my list would look like. Also, I am a fan of your OCD, lame blogger.

    3. Also, waiting for Mac's list with bated breath!

    4. I'd be sort of hurt that I'm not the #1 blog fan, but since I did beat Mac in the best of comments blog, I guess I'll let him have this one.

    5. Most important books/series in my life:

      1. Tolkien's Middle Earth books - Momma read The Hobbit to me in the third grade, and I loved it so much that I read it once a year every year after that until college when Jeff bought me the Lord of the Rings series. I read them and was absolutely blown away. As C.S. Lewis said, "Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart." I read The Silmarillion for the first time in like 2004 or so. So all told, I think that I've read the Hobbit 13 times or so, The Lord of the Rings 8 or 9 times, and Silmarillion 5 times. They are my most read, most influential books ever.

      2. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - This was the first religious book that really made me think deeply. Lewis's concise and profound insights into natural law, the trinity, salvation, and the person and work of Christ set me on the path toward religious academia.

      3. Resident Aliens and The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas - Hauerwas's vision of how the church ought to be in the world, his pacifism, his unflinching call for Christian exceptionalism, and his idealism all have had a massive effect on my life, my faith, and my ministry.

      4. Shogun by James Clavell and The Godfather by Mario Puzo - Okay, so these two aren't really a series at all, but they both accomplished the same thing in my life and love both of them. They're stories about power and how it works in the world. Both have shrewd, ruthless, men at the heart of them and they show the way that such men can bend others to their will. I think that the acquisition and application of power is a fascinating topic, and I think that these two books had a major impact on how I view politics and government as well as other power structures in my life like work, church, family, etc.

      5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Besides the fact that this is probably the greatest American novel of all time, it's a great story about some things that I care about a lot - fathers, justice, the south, honor, poverty, and childhood just to name a few.

      I'll have to add the next 5 tomorrow. It's getting late.

    6. Remember that time I was driving with you to Kentucky? It was right before Order of the Phoenix came out. I was not planning to read the Harry Potter books. So you gave me the Cliff Notes version of the first four books. That was one of my favorite car rides of all time. But then a couple of years later, I decided to read the books. So after that all of my favorite car rides were when Jim Dale read HP to me.

    7. Ellen's good at those book summaries. I got one for McBeth the summer before my senior year, and I can still remember the details. It also helped me really enjoy McBeth that year.

    8. 6. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King - This was the book that Jeff gave me for my birthday my sophomore year of college (solidifying the tradition he began with LOTR the year before). It was my first King novel, and I absolutely loved it. Since that time, I've read about 15 of his novels, and he remains one of my favorite authors. I love his horror stories, his epic sagas (not counting book 7 of The Dark Tower), his non-fiction (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, has been a huge help to me over the years), and his short stories.

      7. Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - One of my favorite Christian books of all time and the basis for a lot of how I read the gospels. Bonhoeffer's deep insights into scripture along with his unwavering focus on Christ as the lens through which everything in life must be approached have changed my teaching, my ethics, and my life. It's a must-read book for Christians.

      8. Blankets by Craig Thompson - It's very hard to pick which graphic novel ought to be on this list. Watchmen is so groundbreaking and powerful. The Dark Knight Returns is too. But in the end, I have to go with Blankets. For one thing, the same guy does the story and art, and they meld together pretty perfectly. For another, it's probably my favorite. It showed me that you could do comics without superheroes and it shaped the way that I approach my ministry by showing me the dangers of ignoring or glossing over tough problems in the biblical text. Mostly, it's just a really great story though.

      9. Greek Gods and Heroes by Robert Graves - This was a well-worn orange book with a blue spine that had been repaired more than once in Momma's Jr. High library. I bet that I read it about 10 times between 5th and 9th grade. It was an incredibly accessible collection of the major stories from Greek mythology, and it was the first book about myths that I remember reading. Since myths now play a central role in my academic work this book is sort of a big deal to me. I wish I could have found a way to cite it in my thesis.

      10. Tikki Tikki Tembo - There are lots of books that I could have referenced for this one, but Tikki Tikki Tembo is a good representative of books that I hear in my mother's voice. (Epaminodas is another one that would have fit well here.) It's a story about a Chinese boy with a very long name and how that causes trouble if he falls in the well. It's cute. Momma used to tell us this story rather than reading it to us because she had basically memorized it. I find myself falling into Momma's cadences and inflections when I read Elijah stories now, and I treasure all of those memories of her reading books to us, and telling stories.

    9. Now that I'm done being a jerk, I'll talk books. First, the book I would've chosen as being heard in Momma's voice is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I still hear it at Christmas and other time people talk about baby Jesus, even though we never have time to finish it anymore. Buy yeah, my momma read me a lot of the best books I've ever read. Like To Kill a Mockingbird.
      All of the books that I've read from Ellen's list are wrapped up in memories of her, as you might guess from the many times I was referenced. Honestly, without those books, I don't know how I would talk or think of be. They are integral parts of my person. As is Ellen. Yet another precious gift my momma gave me.
      Anyway, the only series I can think of to add is The Wrinkle in Time books. I heart them somethin' fierce. Guess who started me on those?

    10. When I write something and people notice and respond and interact with it lots (and lots is a relative term, but nine comments is a lot for me), it thrills my soul. Once this blog secures my book deal, all of you will have to change your lists. But for now, thank you, friends, for caring.

      Here are some things I want to say about your comments:
      Rob--the reason I saw Mac was the number one blog fan is because he does seem to be more in love with the blog than anyone else. You're my friend outside the internet, but Mac only likes me online. Also you said some particularly sweet things about books, your momma, and me, and it was top ten worthy.

      Mac--I knew you wouldn't be able to resist the siren song of the list. Thanks for playing along. And I never want to be that person that snottily corrects people, but it's Macbeth. I tried to be cool about it, but suddenly I couldn't. But I am flattered that you still remember my Macbeth summary. Also I love it when you say "dang, playa." I giggle.

      Shane--That was a pretty decent car ride, but I sort of regret spoiling the first four books for you--unless my synopsis is what inspired you to read them. In which case, you're welcome.

      Michelle--What would your list look like? I bet John Rosemund or the person that wrote Babywise would make the cut. I think it's time or just about time for Katelyn to read Anne of Green Gables. We should talk about it first though, as there's the sad at the end. P.S. Thank you for supporting me in my neuroses.

      If I hadn't been in such a hurry to publish the other day, I would have talked about why I didn't include the Bible (a league of its own and not just a book, in this blogger's opinion), and I might have figured a way to work in a couple more honorable mentions. To Kill a Mockingbird was on the list until the very end, and I'm already disappointed that I went with something else. Live and learn, I guess.

    11. More series of books that I love: The first real live books I remember reading are the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward. Encyclopedia Brown was my first experience in mysteries and he led me to The Hardy Boys and Margaret Truman's Capitol Murder Series, among others. And one very wonderful series that our dear blogger has neglected: The Little Women books. The March girls are every bit as sweet and good as Anne & Co., and I would put Jo's scrapes up against Anne and Diana's anyday. Mom tried reading it to me once when I was in elementary school and I just couldn't get into it, but once I did... You should give them another shot, Ellen. There are children coming to your library who need to know about them. Another really good series my momma shared with me: The Little House books.

    12. I think that all of those memories my precious children have shared must outweigh all of the poor parenting skills that I suffer such guilt over! How blessed I am to share such literary devotion with them, and with you, my little kindred spirit.

    13. I was telling Vernon about this blog today, and I'm sure that he'll be a regular lurker soon. He mentioned Little Women as well. Momma always talks about remembering him reading that book in Jr. High.

      In the course of that conversation, I figured out that I should have put Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Maniac McGee (or is it MacGee?) in with To Kill a Mockingbird as they were also key works in changing my attitude about racism.

      I've really enjoyed this list because it's a new way to think about books that I haven't done before. I've made lists of "best novels" or "my favorite books" or whatever, but never this one. Nice job Bo.

      It'd be interesting to see you a similar post with movies. I'm making my guesses now as to which ones will appear.

      Also, I'm totally your friend in real life. It just turns out that I'm a really lousy friend. Ask anybody. At least I don't let my annoyance with someone else keep me from spending a few hours a week hanging out with my friend/cousin and getting some good exercise. Not all the readers of this blog can say that can they _______?

    14. Back when I first starting reading Pioneer Woman's blog, I noticed her saying in several different posts across a big span of time, that the reader comments were the best part of her blog. And I thought that was ridiculous.

      But I completely get it now. Writing for you, whether I'm writing to a specific audience of not, is fun and thought-provoking and sometimes cathartic, but when you interact with me here, it gets kicked up to a whole new level. Thank you, friends.

      I'd devote an open letter Tuesday to your awesomeness, but the whole shooting match around here is your open letter. Love.

    15. i love lonesome dove. and harry potter is on my list to read aloud to the kids this summer.

    16. you enjoy interacting in your comments so much you should install disqus. your reply will go to their email and to your blog.

    17. Ellen, I think this blog is our of your best. Larry McMurtry is one of the best American writer of the 2oth Century. Whether, he is writing about 1950's Texas and 1850's Texas, he is able to convey the feelings the characters are going thru.

      Some other McMurtry's books you might like are
      The Last Picture Show, Texasville, Horseman Pass By (the basis for the Paul Newman film, "Hud"), Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star, Buffalo Girls, The Streets of Laredo, Commanche Moon, and Anything for Billy.

      On the subject of Jane Austen, anything she has written lifts my spirits. It is sad in her short 42 years on this earth, she only completed six novels. The amazing thing is the six novels still stand the test of time 200 years later. Her keen observations are still accurate today. Out of respect, I can not and will not read the so called sequels or spin offs that are written by other authors.

      After reading Gone With The Wind for every year from the time I was 13 until I was 25, I have put GWTW in my Hall Of Fame and will read the book again in 2016. The 80th anniversary of its publication.

      I got Blue Like Jazz for my 50th birthday in 2009. It was the second Donald Miller book I have received as a present. The first book I received was Searching For God Knows what for Christmas 2008. I highly recommend both books. Miller excells at getting me to think in new ways about my faith.

      Reading has been important to me all my life. It is one of the things my Mom passed on to me. When I was little, my Mom make certain that I was reading. She loved to read and she made certain the tradition was passed down.

      Personally, I think it is great you were reading things like Lonesome Dove at an early age. I started reading the classics when I was 12. It is never to early to introduce a child to the world of books.

      Charles Bingley


    what do you think?