The summer I graduated from college (at forty), I spent weeks hiding from my kids on the screened in back porch. I gathered armfuls of books from the library, and spent my days sipping iced tea, and gulping down books. I read as though my life depended on it. When I finished a book, I laid on the sofa and watched puffy white clouds float by. And then… I started another.
One day, Allie came out and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was just enjoying the summer, watching the clouds roll by. She replied, “But mom, it’s overcast. You can’t even see the clouds today.” She was right. And, I didn’t care. I had just finished a grueling season of hard work. I completed my degree and launched a child into college in the same year. My community was in mourning, my friends were scattering, and I was completely exhausted.
Words have always been a lifeline for me. A place to escape the complexities of my life and lose myself in the complexities of someone else’s. In books, I’ve found my favorite teachers, faithful companions, and lifelong friends. Words have also provided me new understanding, stark clarity, and challenging insights. Books have broken my heart and lifted my soul.
I escape into fantasy, as I walk among the hobbits and dwarves or learn to ride dragons. I submerge myself in science fiction, as I explore strange new worlds that live only in the imagination of the writer (and now my own). I delve into biography and history to understand, to know people and events from another perspective. I learn from authors who bring new light to familiar ways of seeing. I love to be swept up in a story, leaving my own life behind to explore the world through the eyes and thoughts of another.
People sometimes say that they don’t like fiction because it isn’t real. I would respectfully disagree. Some of the most real things I’ve learned have come in the pages of a book. I’ve found new ways of understanding and describing my own inner world tucked between the pages of a book about dragons. I’ve learned about honesty, integrity, and friendship in my books. I’ve also learned to see my ordinary days differently, to give them the weight and honor they deserve as the very pieces of my life.
In this season, I find myself again turning to books for solace and comfort. As the calendar turned from July to August, I realized that have been reading a lot. On my drive to work I listen to Audio books, at home I read my kindle, and used books that arrive regularly from Amazon. I am never without a book within arm’s reach with my phone.
My summer reading list includes spiritual memoir, “chick lit”, myth and fairy tale, historical fiction, books about people living and dying with cancer, and grief. They are set in rural Georgia, the rugged coast of Maine, the mountains of Montana, 1940’s England, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and California. They span most of the 20thCentury and some of the 21st. They are funny, heartbreaking, challenging, and inspiring. Books are the stuff of life:
Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor
An Alter in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
City Bakers Guide to Country Living by Miller
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
Olive Kitteridge by Olive Strout
Joyous Body: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
The Book of Essie by Meghan Weir
Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath In a Busy World by Shelly Miller
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
War Brides by Helen Bryan
I am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby
When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi
A Grief Observed by CS Lewis
Cutting for Stone: A Novel by Abraham Verghese
In this House of Brede by Rumor Godden
Devotions by Mary Oliver
Eat this Book by Eugene Peterson
So, if you see me in the grocery store and I look like I’ve been crying, it could be that a wave of raw emotion has overwhelmed me, or it might be that a favorite character just died. Feel free to hug me, if you must. If you see my laughing my head off as I drive down the road, it could be that I crack myself up (as I sometimes do) or it could be the audiobook coming through the speakers. If you see that I have more compassion, less judgement, greater capacity to hold space for opposing views, or a renewed sense of calm blame the books. They are holding me together right now. That’s all, I’m just holding on to the magic in the words.
Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
― Charles William Eliot
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
― C.S. Lewis
I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.
― Sylvia Plath,