Hey friends! I just wanted to pop in a share a bit with you about some of the best books that I’ve read recently, in case you are looking for some recommended reading material for your spring and summer.
Reading during a time of crisis is a tricky thing. I feel a deep need to be reading edifying and beautiful and true things, and I also feel painfully scattered! I have been finding that my typical reading habits are getting all shaken up, and I’m having a harder time finding the right book for the right moment. During the most ordinary times I have a stack of four or five books that I am actively working through…but right now it’s like seven deep and I am flitting back and forth and still trying to find that balance of comforting and challenging in my reading diet!
How crisis-minded each day feels really is dictating what kind of book I am able to tackle, and for a time, I think that’s okay. If you are experiencing the same thing, I’d love to hear about it! And hey, maybe it’s okay to just let some books sit for now, and just go with the books that are speaking to you in this time, even if it wasn’t what you typically are drawn to or if it wasn’t what you had planned to be reading this year!
I hope my list of books I have loved so far this year will help you in finding something that just fits for you right now!
(I’m going to quote here a bit from things I’ve already shared on my Goodreads, so if we’re friends there, this may be some repeat material for you!)
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
I read this in January, but it is eerily fitting for the days we are living through – even if it is set in 1922! It was blissful, literary reading, and has secured, probably forever, a place in my heart among my very favorite books. A re-reading is definitely in my near future.
I adored this book for so many reasons! It was a delight. Gorgeous writing with lovely, surprising humor in spite of the grim realities of the post-revolution Russian setting. The main character absolutely glows. It isn’t a book to be rushed…but at the same time I could hardly put it down. The indomitable human spirit of Count Rostov “an unrepentant aristocrat” (deemed so by the Bolsheviks), is so inspiring, and the conclusion was so satisfying and left me almost breathless with joy. He reminds me of all the things I love about life and the world.
I did feel that the romantic relationship between Count Rostov and Anna Urbanova was somewhat below him, and kind of “meh”…there were a couple of sensual scenes between them, so I will not share this book with my children until they’re much older (or maybe we’ll read it together, skipping those scenes?).
From the books’ description:
“An indomitable man of erudition and wit, Rostov must now live in an attic room as some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history unfold. Unexpectedly, the Count’s reduced circumstances provide him entry into a world of emotional discovery as he forges friendships with the hotel’s denizens. But when fate puts the life of a young girl in his hands, he must draw on all his ingenuity to protect the future she deserves. Hailed for its humor, intrigue, and beautifully rendered scenes, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the Count’s endeavor to become a man of purpose.”
The Wanderer – Judy R Carlson
From the book’s description:
“Renuel, the ‘Wanderer’ is tall, dark and lean. A foreigner on a grievous, underground mission collides, on a city street, with Linnea Johanneson…”
This book was a really fun follow-up to A Gentleman in Moscow, as it continues with an Eastern European cultural vibe with a taste of Norway and Sweden too! Better still, my mother in law wrote The Wanderer and so it is a family treasure as well as a really great read!
The composition of the story began on a quiet holiday evening as some of the family gathered around to enjoy the last glow of a day spent in celebration together. Judy suggested, “Let’s all write a story together!” Which was received with lukewarm enthusiasm or lack thereof, except for my dear niece Lydia, who thought the idea had a spark. The two of them wrote back and forth, a few paragraphs at a time, and that was the birth of the tale that would go on to become The Wanderer.
Some of the books that I tend to love best are those books with stories that I enjoy but that also have a delicately-woven thread just beneath the plot – something rich with thought-provoking philosophy, theology, anthropology…in this book, Judy has passed on something of the beauty of her vibrant life and faith, mystical and romantic, laced with classic poetry, proverbial literature and life-wisdom. It gently inspires and wakes the deepest parts of the reader while they are just along for the ride with Linnea, Stian, Renuel, Natalyia, Bella and others.
This book was a bit reminiscent to me of some of my favorites of George MacDonald’s fiction, having a sort of omniscient narrator who gives you sudden and striking insights into the characters. If you have read some of his stories, you may find that this work appeals to you too. There is mystery, drama, some surprising twists and turns, and of course, romance. A delightful book! In the best of ways, it is something that could only be written by someone who has lived seven decades under the sun and tasted much of the bittersweetness of life and gained much wisdom in walking with her Savior in it. I think you’ll find it inspiring. Don’t miss the wonderful epigraphs!
A Timbered Choir – Wendell Berry
Isn’t that title just glorious and beautiful?!
I can’t say that I really have very much experience reading poetry, but I do have a growing appetite for it, and I find that in times of stress I am that much more drawn to the wonderful immersion of imagination that one can experience in beautiful poems.
Wendell Berry is one of my favorite authors, first for his fiction, and now perhaps his poetry (particularly his Sabbath poems), has even pulled ahead in my heart. These poems are such a breath of fresh air. He wrestles with themes of life and death, community, friends and family, seasons, grief, love and joy, all in the context of his Sabbath rest and musings.
In reading them, I often feel as if I have spent an afternoon wandering his Kentucky hills in the golden hour before dusk, and my heart absorbs some of his peace…at rest in the natural world, with a deep awareness of the sovereignty of the Creator.
This is a book I will come back to over and over again and I commend it to you! I found it so stabilizing with it’s soothing beauty. Here is one of my many favorite poems from A Timbered Choir…
“Now you have slipped away
Under the trackless snow,
To you the time of day
Always is long ago.
You’re safe among the dead,
Alive, your death undone.
“Come and dine,” Christ said.
Consenting, you have gone.
Gift from the Sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
This book came highly recommended by several women whom I admire, and the cover was pretty (!!!), so I finally bought it and adored it. The book description says,
“graceful, lucid and lyrical – Anne Morrow Lindbergh shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea…”
As a woman now in the “oyster bed years” of marriage and children and sprawling responsibilities everywhere, there is a full feeling of fruitfulness but also at times of exhaustion and being spread much too thin, and reading musings on the many chapters of life from an older woman (this book was published in 1955) made me feel as if I am in such good company, as if my experience is in the realm of things true to many others, and it helpfully placed it in the context of life chapters both prior and future.
This book is something like a guide to womanhood – with “outward simplicity, inner integrity, fuller relationship”…more hints and musings than answers, but it was profoundly centering and soothing to read. It was one of those serendipitous “right book at the right time” situations for me.
It was short, poetic, readable, and exactly like a gift from the sea.
On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books – Karen Swallow Prior
As I have come to write a bit about each of these books, I have taken a deep breath, feeling almost as if their magic is just too much for me! I can’t possibly begin to explain what was so lovely or moving or even simply what the book is about!
And here again, I probably cannot begin to do this work justice, but I’ll simply start by saying I adored this book, and it has become a centerpiece for my comprehension not only of my own reading life but also for understanding my spiritual life more deeply and understanding the heart of the education of my children.
Karen Swallow Prior skillfully teaches on the virtues – cardinal, theological and heavenly – using some of the best literature to illustrate them and bring insight into how we ought to be formed by these virtues (and, by virtuous reading).
This was my first real introduction to the virtues in a classical sense, and I found it so enlightening, with a whopping portion of conviction too. The crossroads of theology and literature is probably my very very favorite conversation! I find the concept of reading for spiritual formation absolutely fascinating as well.
Some of the literary works featured here were old friends for me, and some are new recommendations that I will be getting to soon (happily, with her insights to guide me)! This felt like a guided literary tour of the virtues by an amazing and accomplished woman who still seems to be just the most tender kindred spirit.
Every chapter found me highlighting like mad, thinking *THIS!* This, is why I read books.
I highly, highly recommend it to you. Also the Foreword, Introduction and illustrations are not to be missed. I may read through this with my students in upper grades, and I think this book would be particularly interesting to my friends involved in education especially with a Charlotte Mason or Classical approach.
Here are a couple of excerpts (though I could fill an entire commonplace book with quotes!)…
“Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you: books with sentences so exquisitely crafted that they must be reread, familiar words used in fresh ways, new words so evocative that you are compelled to look them up, and images and ideas so arresting that they return to you unbidden for days to come.”
“Reading literature, more than informing us, forms us.”
“We have never lived enough. Our experience is, without fiction, too confined and too parochial. Literature extends it…” (quoting Martha Nussbaum, who echoes Aristotle)
“The cardinal virtues, the subjects of part 1, constitute the most agreed-upon grouping across Greek and early Christian thought. These virtues are prudence, temperance, justice, and courage. They are called cardinal virtues because cardinal originally meant “hinge” or “pivot.” Philosophers consider these four virtues to be the ones on which all other virtues depend or hinge. And of these, prudence or practical wisdom, the subject of the first chapter, is queen.
The theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – are drawn directly from the Bible. While the Bible mentions other virtues, these three have special significance among the virtues, not only because of the way they are emphasized in 1 Corinthians 13:13, but also because, unlike the other virtues, they occur in their true sense not through human nature but by God’s divine power…”
“To expose the lies that hide the moral truth revealed by nature and the God of nature requires effort, trauma, or some sudden epiphany. Or a great novelist.”
I hope this list will give you some ideas for a book to read soon! I would love to hear about what you’re reading, and if you’ve noticed any changes in your reading life in the last few months.
Currently, I am so enjoying a book from one of my dearest friends and mentors, Kim Vogel Sawyer – Waiting for Summer’s Return (so delightful! I am relating so much with the main character…). It was her very first book, and she has gone on to have quite a prolific career with over 50 published works so far! I am also very slowly working through Martin Luther’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (excellent, by the way!), and Nels and I are reading together a very interesting geopolitical book, Prisoners of Geography – which despite a subject that typically hits me as somewhat dry, has been very captivating and well-written, besides being an area that I need to do a lot more reading in! With my children, I have been all taken up by Andrew Peterson’s North! Or Be Eaten (Audible version!). It is SO good.
All the best to you, my friends! Happy Reading.