How to fall back in love with reading

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It’s the middle of finals week. I’m trying to review the notes I’ve taken on the literal thousands of pages I’ve read over the semester. By 9:00 at night, my brain is crammed. I watch half an episode on Netflix, turn off the lights, and tell myself that I’ll never be able to read a book for pleasure, ever again.

Of course, a little over a month after this scenario took place, I’ve changed my mind. Now that I no longer have three or four hundred pages assigned reading each week, I’ve been relearning the art of reading for relaxation. It’s glorious.

Because I absolutely love the books I’ve been reading, I’ll offer you a five-step program to fall back in love with reading after a stressful school year. The exact titles are negotiable, but if you’re in need of some good book ideas, I heartily recommend these. So, the five-step program (aka a review of the five books I’ve been reading).

1. As soon as you finish throwing away your history notes (and packing your few favorite pages in your overflowing suitcase), grab that book that you picked up somewhere during the school year, the one that reminded you of the good old days when you compiled your own reading list. The best genre for the job? Mystery, preferably by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot’s last mystery, Curtain, was a captivating read. Just the right mixture of suspense and humor to keep me coming back. And finish it on the plane ride home.

2. When that mystery is finished, go through your Kindle and pick out the most intriguing book out of the 95 you’ve downloaded for free over the last few months. For me, that was Dee Henderson’s Danger in the Shadows. I’d never read Dee Henderson’s books before, but I was impressed with her writing. (Sometimes Christian novels can be, well, a little lacking in their use of unpredictable storylines.) The romance between a woman hiding from her childhood kidnapper and a famous football star was maybe a bit far-fetched, but quite enjoyable. A mind recovering from finals is pretty easy to please.

3. The book title for the third step is absolutely non-negotiable, because everyone needs to read Dear Mr. Knightley. I may or may not have gushed about it repeatedly to my family. At least my gushing did convince my mom to read it, and I know for a fact that she stayed up late at least one night just to finish it. Sam, the college student who constantly quotes Austen and never seems to do anything just right, is such a sympathetic character. Even though her background as a foster child is far different than mine, I could echo many of both her frustrations and interests. One of the signs of a good author is when she puts you in her protagonist’s shoes, and that certainly happened to me in Dear Mr. Knightley. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh, cry, and understand yourself better, go read it.

4. This fourth step is an effort to steer you away from modern, easy-to-read novels, back to the classic books you used to love dearly. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell was the perfect bridge for me. I’ve seen the movie version of this book more than any other, thanks to a couple of my friends who always suggested this movie at slumber parties (ahem, Rebekah and Theresa!). The story has grown on me over the years, and after our wing watched it together during the spring semester (and everyone fell in love all over again with Mr. Thornton), I decided I needed to read the book. It’s just as good, if not better, than the movie. Sometimes, if I’ve grown up watching the movie and read the book years later, the book disappoints me. But I loved reading more details about Margaret and Thornton and discovering conversations that the movie left out, all the while still picturing the faces of Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. Every Gaskell book I read further convinces me to place her books even higher than Jane Austen’s. And that’s saying something.

5. By the fifth step, you should be ready for anything. Even a book that—gasp!—might be assigned in a literature class. I couldn’t resist reading one of my free Kindle books, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. I read The Great Gatsby in high school, and I enjoyed getting to experience his engaging writing style once again. I actually liked it even better than The Great Gatsby because I could sympathize with a lot of Amory Blaine’s egoist struggles (unfortunately, self-centeredness is something I’ve always struggled with!). To tell you the truth, I saw it recommended on Facebook, of all places. But when someone you respect says that a book is their favorite ever (even if it is said on Facebook), and it’s written by one of the most famous American authors of the 20th century, you are basically obligated to read it. It is quite charming and slightly scandalous if you read as if you were Fitzgerald’s original audience. I love reading books by brilliant authors, and Fitzgerald is one of the greats.

Now I am starting my gift book pile—books from my birthday and Christmas that I am dreadfully excited to read. I’m eighty pages into The Book Thief, and I absolutely adore it so far. Again, incredible writing. I am beginning to think it will be one of the classics of our century. I’ve watched the movie trailer at least three times, and after I finish the book I plan to spend the $1.50 to rent the movie from our town’s one and only grocery store. You’ll probably be hearing more about it—it’s just that good.

So there you have it: five simple steps to help you fall back in love with reading. I’m sure I’ll have to revisit these steps after every school year, but for now I am securely back in love with books. So far that I sometimes walk from room to room with a book or my Kindle in hand, telling my brother about the scary encounters in Dee Henderson’s novel or sighing over Mr. Thornton until my brother rolls his eyes.

I just have to leave you with a few This Side of Paradise quotes:

“Why don’t you tell me that ‘if the girl had been worth having she’d have waited for you’? No sir, the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.” (I agree with this quote in one sense, disagree in another. So don’t think I’m advocating something really bad, because that’s the sense in which I don’t agree with it. Smile)

“’I know myself,’ he cried, ‘but that is all.’”

“Often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself.”

“Beware of trying to classify people too definitely into types; you will find that all through their youth they will persist annoyingly in jumping from class to class….”

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”

“…So he let himself go, discussed books by the dozens—books he had read, read about, books he had never heard of, rattling off lists of titles.”—This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

What’s on my bed-stand today

The advantage of a large bedstand: keeping all reading, watching, and listening materials in one place. In the room I’m currently staying in, I have one. And it’s quite a convenient arrangement. I decided to share with you some pictures of my current collection, just to prove what eclectic interests I have.

Reading: Facing the Giants and Laddie. I love Eric Wilson’s novel version of Facing the GiantsThat’s always been one of my favorite movies, and he weaves extra details and fun stories into the chapters. And I’m loving Laddie…it’s such a sweet story, and my first experience with Gene Stratton Porter.

Watching: Nanny McPhee Returns and Indiana Jones. Yes, I like many different movie genres. 🙂 I’m not a big fan of Nanny McPhee. For one thing, Mary Poppins will forever and always be the best nanny movie–no question. The second Nanny McPhee movie is definitely better than the first; I think it has fewer rude comments and a cleaner presentation. But I still wouldn’t recommend it for kid-viewing, although probably kids were the intended audience. One scene with Nanny McPhee flying on a motorcycle is totally awesome… 🙂

I watched Indiana Jones due to the prompting of a certain younger brother of mine. Wow, what a classic. It’s pretty action-packed and violent, but if you enjoy that sort of movie, you’ll have to watch it. 🙂 Although it’s rated PG, I would call it PG-13, but that’s because I’m quite picky about violence and profanity. Harrison Ford is an amazing actor; his character and bravery are so manly and inspiring. And the soundtrack…well, go have a listen. It’s incredibly awesome.

Listening: Scotty McCreery’s Clear As Day CD. Mom gave this to me for my birthday, and it’s the first country CD I officially own! I love his songs. Some of them make me tear up every time I hear them. I may or may not have them mostly memorized…even though song lyric memorization doesn’t come naturally for me! 🙂

I could have included the picture of my three Bibles that I’m currently reading. But I liked the looks of a three picture collage better than a four-picture one. 🙂 Yes, I am reading all three Bibles. One is English, one is Spanish, one is French. This year I’m reading through the Old Testament in French, and Psalms and Proverbs in Spanish. The MacArthur Daily Bible keeps me on track, although I’m slightly behind. French words must be longer than English words.

So, there’s a look at the media I’ve been consuming. (I never think of classifying books as media, but I guess they probably are.) Amazing how a bed-stand can describe the daily life of a person’s imagination!

my spring reading list

Ahhh, I’m terribly behind on updating you all on my reading list. Reading hasn’t been a high priority these last few months, but it’s still a small part of my daily routine, usually between ten minutes or a half hour. This amount of time doesn’t help me finish books quickly, but as I haven’t updated you since February, I have quite a few books to tell you about. 🙂

Fireproof, by Eric Wilson: After reading the novel Courageous by Randy Alcorn, I saw the book Fireproof on my cousin’s shelf. I enjoyed reading it and learning details about the background story. Although the scenes follow closely with the movie itself, I really enjoyed it.
Tales of Larkin: Larkin’s Journal, by Alan Harris: I can’t recommend this book enough! As a twelve-year-old, I loved Dr. Harris’s first Larkin book, Hawthorn’s Discovery. The second book is the prequel, and even more exciting than the first. The story describes the adventures of Larkin and his friends, a group of inch-tall people. Their lives are filled with wild animal confrontations, battles with their enemies, and encounters with big-sized people. A fun romance between Larkin and the Princess spices up the story. Definitely a must-read! (And no, I’m not just saying that because my sister-in-law’s dad wrote it–although that’s an extra good reason to read it!) 🙂
Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis: I always knew I loved C. S. Lewis. The Narnia books are the best series ever (no question there…although Laura Ingalls Wilder would be my second series choice!). Mere Christianity taught me to appreciate Lewis’s spiritual teaching. Surprised by Joy gave me a glimpse into his life. Although not an autobiography, Lewis uses experiences from his growing up years to document his journey to discovering true joy in Jesus Christ. A post with some favorite quotes is coming soon!
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen: Shock. Surprise. Unbelief. I know you must be feeling those emotions right now over the fact that until 2012, I had never read this great classic. I’ve seen two screen versions of the book countless times, so I somehow thought that the book wouldn’t be an exciting read. But as I devoured the pages 12,000 feet up in the air (or however high an airplane normally flies!), I found myself laughing over details and conversations the movies omitted. I absolutely loved it.
Thirteen at Dinner; The A.B.C. Murders; Funerals Are Fatal; by Agatha Christie: Please put away your smelling salts after reading three such morbid titles in a row. No, I am not a huge murder mystery fan, but I am a finish-all-the-books-in-the-three-in-one-edition person. I’d never read Agatha Christie before, but during my last month of school, I desperately needed some mindless reading material. Since Agatha Christie is supposedly the best-selling novelist of all time, and the number of editions of her books is only behind the Bible and Shakespeare (according to this Wikipedia article), I decided to taste her writing style. She mastered the detective genre, if my observations are correct. At least, I never could pinpoint the guilty party in any of the three books. Her writing is engaging and exciting, an interesting study in reader captivation. Books rarely scare me, but hers certainly made me shine a flashlight around my room more than once!

How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, by Peter Robinson: Written by one of Reagan’s speech writers, this book was a fascinating read. I’ve never understood the responsibilities of presidential speech-writing, and this book cleared up many of my questions. Robinson learned many lessons from Reagan’s life, and he shares them in a systematic and insightful manner. I don’t believe the author is a Christian (although he seems religious), so his observations about Reagan’s faith particularly interested me. (Warning: a few inappropriate words in direct quotations from certain individuals.)

My review of Les Miserables

 Written for YLCF’s March of Books

Cosette, a little girl who softens the heart of a convict. Javert, a strict inspector who places duty above all else. Marius, a passionate young man who believes in liberty. Jean Valjean, a strong man who is constantly faced with contradictory struggles. These are Les Miserables, “the miserable ones,” the characters of Victor Hugo’s timeless classic.

I’ve known and loved these characters for the last ten years of my life. On frequent road trips, our family would listen to Focus on the Family’s radio drama of Les Miserables. Javert’s stern voice always scared me, and I never knew whether to trust Jean Valjean.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to read the book. For several months, a loaned copy sat in my room untouched, waiting until the rest of my reading list was completed. Finally I made the plunge when I realized that such a feat would never be accomplished.

Having read titles like David Copperfield and Ben-Hur, I’m no stranger to long books. But 1450 pages seemed slightly daunting, especially to a conscientious reader like me who would never, ever dream of skipping a sentence, heaven forbid an entire paragraph.

Page by page, I waded through the epic, digging deeper into the well-loved story. Victor Hugo amazes me. While many complain about his long-windedness—legitimately, it is true—I savored the details. Many passages filled with names of historical and mythological figures passed over my extremely unknowledgeable head. But all these references led me to appreciate the intelligence of Hugo and many other learned people of his day.

The French Revolution provides an emotional backdrop to this epic. As a lover of the French language, I appreciated gaining a greater insight into French history. (A substantial number of pages are dedicated to Napoleon and Waterloo—be forewarned!) I still waver on which side was “more right”, a question the French argue today much as we argue the American Civil War.

The pages contain insightful discussion about a myriad of topics. Although I don’t agree with some of Hugo’s philosophy, he wrote from numerous perspectives. The wisdom astounds me. Yes, perhaps some passages are unnecessary to the story as a whole. (I do not recommend reading the lengthy, in-depth description of Parisian sewers when recovering from the stomach flu. Ahem.) But one cannot help being left with much food for thought, almost an overload of ideas swirling in one’s brain.

It seems strange that a fairly normal, 21st century teenage girl would share anything in common with a 19th century French criminal. But in Hugo’s exploration of Jean Valjean’s soul, I found parallels to my own life, and circumstances I’ve witnessed in others’ lives. The struggle of choosing between right and wrong when the path is unclear. Between conscience and duty when the two seemingly contradict each other.

Would I recommend reading Les Miserables to everyone? Probably not. Unless you want to commit several months of both your reading life and brainpower, I would suggest a summarized version such as the radio drama or the incredible opera. (You must, absolutely must, go listen to On My Own and Do You Hear the People Sing, which features the Jean Valjean actors from seventeen different countries. I get chills every time I listen.) I do most definitely recommend learning about this classic in some way, whether by summary or the 1500 page journey.

The story powerfully represents the struggles of each individual soul. Out of all the people in the world, your story is unique. As a Christian, I am reminded of the song Sea of Faces. I am not lost in a sea of faces. I am loved by a Savior who “traded His life for mine.” Although I’ll never have an epic written about my life, my life is a story. And it matters to God. The theme of the whole book is almost summarized by this quote: “There is one spectacle greater than the sea: That is the sky. There is one spectacle greater than the sky: That is the interior of the soul.”

Favorite quotes from Les Miserables:

About children:
 “Children at that age are simply copies of the mother; only the size is reduced.” page 156

“The doll is one of the most imperative needs, and at the same time one of the most charming instincts of feminine childhood.” page 405

“The fist is no mean element of respect….To be left-handed makes you an object of envy. Squinting is highly esteemed.” (Talking about boys who lived on the street, les gamins) page 585

About God:
 “Oh Thou who art! Ecclesiastes names Thee the Almighty; Maccabees names Thee Creator; the Epistle to the Ephesians names Thee Liberty; Baruch names Thee Immensity; the Psalms name Thee Wisdom and Truth; John names Thee Light; the Book of Kings names Thee Lord; Exodus calls Thee Providence; Leviticus, Holiness; Esdras, Justice; Creation calls Thee God; man names Thee Father; but Solomon names Thee Compassion, and that is the most beautiful of all Thy names.” page 19

“Progress is the aim, the ideal is the model. What is the ideal? It is God. Ideal, absolute, perfection, the infinite. These are identical words.” page 520

About nations:
“History ignores almost all these minutiae: it cannot do otherwise; it is under the dominion of infinity. Nonetheless, these details, which are incorrectly termed little—there being neither little facts in humanity nor little leaves in vegetation—are useful. It is the feature of the years that makes up the face of the century.” page 119

“The history of morals and ideas penetrates the history of events, and vice versa. They are two orders of different facts that answer to each other, that are always linked together and often produce each other.” page 984

Favorite places to read

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Joining up with YLCF’s My Favorite Place to Read, I didn’t have any trouble deciding which places are my favorites. As shown in the picture above, our dear old couch—brown 1980s style and all—has been the location from which I’ve visited countless places through my books. Although I rarely get the time to curl up there now, nothing defines “relaxation” to me so well as this couch corner. This is still the favored spot for us to rest when we are sick. My memory, although far from photographic, can organize most of the books on our living room shelves facing the couch, just from looking at them so frequently.

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I used to be an opponent to the Reading-In-Bed club. However, the busyness of my high school years have converted me, whether for good or evil. Nowadays, I rarely read anywhere else besides my vintage canopy bed. Prime reading time occurs between 10:00 and 11:00 at night by the glow of my blue book light. I’ve never liked using my lamp to read by, because its light broadcasts to my whole family just how exciting my book must be. Smile I don’t allow myself to read too long at night, gauging myself by ten-page increments.

Of course, another place I frequently read is the car. After getting my license, those reading hours are fewer, but I never go anywhere without a book or two. My worst fear is being stuck somewhere with no one to talk to and nothing to read! 

So go join the fun at YLCF and share your favorite place to read! Smile

Fall and Winter Books

I’ve been so consistent with blogging about Chantel’s reading challenge this year. Just look at my all most posts: January, February, March, May, August, and…that was it. A plot graph could describe the decreasing frequency of my book posts quite well. A lot of my other posts too, for that matter! 🙂 A colossal catch-up post is on its way this week, so be forewarned!

Unfortunately, I can’t give a very detailed report on my reading list, because out of the seven books I’ve completed, three of them are Christmas gifts. But I love those books, and I hope we have another reading challenge next year so I can tell you about them. 🙂

The Duggars: 20 and Counting, by Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar: The Duggar family has always intrigued me. When I ordered this book for Gretchen‘s birthday, of course I had to read it before giving it to her. The stories and pictures seem to give a genuine portrayal of their life. They have such a positive outlook, and really believe that children are a blessing. I’m not convinced that I want nineteen kids someday, but I enjoyed reading about the Duggar family.

The Lost Art of True Beauty, by Leslie Ludy: This book is so encouraging and refreshing. Leslie Ludy’s writings always inspire me! Although it is similar to Set-Apart Femininity, I believe we can never hear too much about Godly womanhood. “There is no other path to lasting beauty. There is no other way a woman can radiate with the sparkle of her King. To effervesce with captivating loveliness, we must be overtaken by the Author of all true beauty.”

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis: This is probably my favorite book I’ve read all year. Even though I’ve always loved C. S. Lewis (our family has the Narnia series nearly memorized), I had never read any of his other books. Mere Christianity is now one of my favorite books ever. C. S. Lewis explains theology in a simple and understandable manner, and I found myself wishing I could just memorize the whole book. 🙂
  
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with a man who said he was a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.” –C. S. Lewis

To Have and To Hold, by Mary Johnston: Whenever I get sick, I usually gravitate toward fast-paced reads. Since Les Miserables doesn’t usually make that list, I picked up this loaned book last week.Written in first-person, somewhat old style English, the story centers around a settler in Jamestown. After a hasty marriage, he realizes that his wife brought him much more trouble than he ever imagined. This story shows the sacrificial, loyal love of a husband for his wife, and has thrilling action as well.


And those, my friends, are all the books I can tell you about at this moment. Of course, I’m still plowing through Les Miserables, and enjoying it so much! (Christmas gifts took priority, however!) I’m pleased to announce that I’ve reached page 1,200 and Marius is at the barricades–meaning I only have 250 more pages to go! It’s my goal to finish before the end of the year. 🙂

This year, I’ve read nineteen books, which isn’t as many as I usually read. But considering that approximately 90% of that reading occurred between 10:00 and 10:30 each night, nineteen books doesn’t sound too bad. 🙂 Total pages read: 6,032, soon to be 7,500 (yes, I am going to finish Les Miserables!). 

I have loved all the books I’ve read this year, although I really hope to get more than twenty books read next year. As C. S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” (Except I don’t drink tea…)

Summer Books

Now I’ll finally share the books that have been my friends this summer. Although I haven’t had much time for reading, it’s amazing how just a few pages a night adds up!

Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets, by P. G. Wodehouse–When I told Gretchen that I had never before read Wodehouse, she was scandalized and forced sent home one of his many books from their shelf. Wodehouse is probably the most creative author ever. The scrapes his characters get into are so bizarre that you can’t help but laugh aloud. This book jumps from one character to another, telling a random assortment of stories about each one (the common theme being “how to get this girl in the craziest way possible”). Reading about the lives of his characters makes me feel so much more normal! 🙂

Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn–Since the only other Alcorn books I’d read were the homicide detective trilogy, this story of persecuted Chinese Christians gave me a whole other view on Alcorn’s writing. Although obviously slower than the mystery series, Safely Home is well-written and exciting. It tells the story of American business executive Ben Fielding who visits his friend Li Quan in China. While there, Ben’s eyes are opened to the side of China the rest of the world rarely sees. Be prepared for a tear-jerker ending!

A Chance to Die, by Elisabeth Elliot–Ever since reading the Charity’s Diary series, I’ve been wanting to read this biography of Amy Carmichael. She was truly an amazing woman. Her depth of love for Jesus, her commitment to spreading His word, are both convicting and inspiring. Amy was totally devoted to her Savior, and to the thousands of hurting children in India. Although she never complained, she wrote realistic letters back home about the daily challenges of missionary life. We tend to idealize mission work, thinking it only involves preaching about Jesus and forgetting the tedious work and frequent discouragement. Amy’s orphanage work involved more diaper-changing and running after children than “actual” missionary work. But her job was no less important. She saved hundreds of children from lives of temple slavery. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to be challenged in their faith, and burdened for the millions–no, billions of people who are living and dying without Jesus Christ.

 Mrs. Miniver, by Jan Struther–This summer I watched the 1943 movie Mrs. Miniver, and then took home the book. I love Mrs. M’s character–she is sensitive, optimistic, and normal. While the movie focuses on the war, the book describes the everyday life of a British woman, only mentioning the war briefly. But I think the magazine installments were more to entertain and distract people from the ugliness of war, a reminder to look on the bright side when all is dark. And I love that the last word of the book finally reveals Mrs. Miniver’s first name. Just the perfect ending.

Now I am engaged in a great civil war undertaking: the reading of Les Miserables. I have wanted to read this book for years, ever since I heard the Focus on the Family audio drama version. I’m 150 pages into the 1500 page epic, but I keep on rewarding myself for even the small goals reached. 🙂 So far I love the book, and Hugo’s writing. Being able to correctly pronounce the French names and phrases makes the reading much more enjoyable, aussi. Although this might lower my total book count for the year, I think it’ll be worth it to say I’ve made through Les Miserables. The next huge book I want to read is War and Peace, but I might wait awhile before tackling that! 🙂

2011 Total Book Count: 12
Total Page Count: 4032

Now for some Mrs. Miniver quotes:

“One of the minor arts of life, thought Mrs. Miniver at the end of a long day’s Christmas shopping, was the conservation of energy in the matter of swing doors.”

“As a rule she managed to keep household matters in what she considered their proper place. They should be no more, she felt, than a low unobtrusive humming in the background of consciousness: the mechanics of life should never be allowed to interfere with living.”

“[Learning] is the one great compensation for the fantastic way in which the events of our time are forcing us to live. The structure of our life–based as it is on the ever-present contingency of war–is lamentably wrong: but its texture, oddly enough is pleasant. There is a freshness about, a kind of rejuvenation: and this is largely because almost everybody you meet is busy learning something. Whereas in ordinary time the majority of grown-up people never try to acquire any new skill at all, either mental or physical: which is why they are apt to seem, and feel, so old. “

Seeing a little German boy’s collection of rocks: “‘Meine Sammlung,’ he said briefly. ‘My c’lection,” echoed Toby’s voice in her memory. Her heart turned over: how could there be this ridiculous talk of war, when little boys in all countries collected stones, dodged cleaning their teeth, and hated cauliflower?”

“Words were the only net to catch a mood, the only sure weapon against oblivion.”

“Clem [Mrs. Miniver’s husband] caught her eye across the table. It seemed to her sometimes that the most important thing about marriage was not a home or children…but simply there being always an eye to catch.”

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