Books worth reading

Confession: I haven’t posted book recommendations for a long while. I’ve been waiting for a theme to emerge, but instead of coalescing they seem to be diverging. I had better share a few titles now before we get any farther afield.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I bought this title before Jenny’s birth and tucked it away for a post-partum treat. Those early days of nursing and quiet, I savored a story that runs the gamut of human emotion and experience. All the ingredients are here: wartime, romance, classic literature, and the British Isles… An orphaned child, a secret society, laughter and tears in difficult times. It’s well-written and funny and heartbreaking, worth reading and re-reading. (And yes. After you read the book you will be able to say the title without feeling like you’re lost in Peter Piper Picked a Peck.)

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande

This is an important book. If you’re interested at all in the issues surrounding human aging, medical ethics, and end of life, it’s a must-read. (If you’re not interested in the issues now, you will be someday, I promise. So you might as well get a jumpstart.) Mr. Gawande, a surgeon, writes easily and intelligently about geriatrics and what it means to have lived a good life. Most of his material is story. He raises excellent questions, and, without making it sound like easy street, offers some good paths forward.

3 Day Potty Training
by Lora Jensen

This one wasn’t for pleasure, but for information. It’s short (44 pages) and not highly polished, but it’s practical and informative and best of all, it works. I tried it at the recommendation of my brother John—tried the book, that is, and then the method on our twins last year about this time. I’d never go back to my former method. Did I even have a method? This one is accident based, and focuses on positivity, presence, and praise. No negative vibes, and no turning back. Potty training is WORK and the three endless days are Hades, but it is worth it. I can’t tell you how much I dreaded training two kids at a time, but this instruction made it manageable—though I admit I still couldn’t have done it without The Boss. We had twenty-four accidents the first day, ten the second day, and one the third day!

Clarification: This title is available only as an e-book. You can use a Kindle app on a smartphone or view it on your computer.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
by Robert M. Pirsig

Reminiscent of Moby Dick, with a slow story line generously interrupted by soliloquy and irrelevant perambulations, Zen is a quiet book tackling human problems in a technological world. I love it. This is my second reading, at least.




The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

I’m still not sure if I actually recommend this one. I found it on a Best Books of 2016 list. It is well-written and gripping, but in many ways a dirty book, full of lines I’d rather forget. The other books I’ve read on the topic have been elaborately researched, trying to convince me of the period’s evil by their factual detail and real-life gore. Instead, this author spins a dramatic novel, imagining the railroad was a literal underground transport system, hinting at layer upon layer of horrific moral darkness, and by some exaggeration and caricature making the reader feel what it was like. It’s ugly, and he means it to be ugly. But I include it here for discerning readers because it gave me two gifts: first, a gut level sense of what it meant to be human property, and second, a good look at the underbelly of the American dream, corrupt and territorial from the beginning.

News of the World
by Paulette Jiles

Another Best Book of 2016—but this one I fell in love with. Against a wild frontier backdrop spangled with lanterns, horse-drawn wagons, and a gunfight, the author skillfully crafts the story of a child torn twice out of her culture, first captured by native Americans and several years later reclaimed by white strangers. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd takes on the job of transporting this uprooted, volatile girl hundreds of miles to her kin. The Captain is quiet and graying and dignified, long on honor and short on change. His character is the best I’ve met in fiction for years. Plus I’m fascinated by the thematic undertone of how children belong…

Speaking of children, here are a few titles for them.

The One Year Bible for Kids, Challenge Edition
produced by Tyndale

My boys wanted devotional Bibles, and this one’s my favorite. It’s hard to find kids’ devotionals with enough Scripture; most seem to be inspirational thoughts written by humans, with a Scripture verse or two tucked in for good measure. I wanted to get the boys into the Word, and this layout is great. It chooses 365 “key chapters” from the Bible, so your child is reading highlights of Genesis to Revelation in one year, roughly a chapter per day.


Seeing Fingers: the story of Louis Braille
by Etta DeGering

Galen and the Gateway to Medicine
by Jeanne Bendick




If you’re in search of worthy biographies, these two are keepers, a mix of educational and delightful. Each is written in a fresh, inviting style well-suited to young readers, and captures the period, not only the man. Bendick has written companion books on Herodotus and Archimedes.

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

And I finally dipped into the works of Lois Lowry! Some discretion may be needed in what age of child to hand her stories to (as in The Giver, a rather dark utopia, if you can believe I stumbled upon another of those), but Lowry is a gifted author. Number the Stars is a memorable tale of courage and hope in Nazi-occupied Denmark—a story my boys enjoyed as much as I did.


And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong… Wait, where was I? Oh yes. It’s your turn to pass book recommendations on to me. What should I read next, please?

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April book recommendations

While we’re talking of books, here are a few I’ve fallen in love with recently.

jayber crowJayber Crow
by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is one part farmer and one part poet. I love his writing—slow, earthen, and timeless. He writes about small town America, and the land, and love, and prayer, and what it means to be human. This is his best book, of the ones I’ve read to date. When I finished I wanted to turn back to page one and start all over again. Ryan says I should warn you that there’s occasional language.

mysterious benedict society

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart

I’m endlessly indebted to my friends Travis and Wendy Zook for introducing me to the Mysterious Benedict Society. My 9-year-old son Aarick and I raced through it, and were equally charmed. It’s witty and puzzling and exciting and clean, with likeable characters, great words, and surprising twists.

Now we get to start on the sequels…!

lord and prayer

The Lord and His Prayer
by N. T. Wright

I bet you can’t guess why I’m reading this one!

I came to a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that utterly baffled me, so I asked three good men (Bible scholars) (including my husband) what in the world to make of it. The next week at church, one of them handed me this book. I’m loving it!

Mr. Wright is direct and insightful. I enjoy his high church backdrop, his gentle language, and his passion for Jesus and truth.

stopping at lemonade

Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand
by James Vollbracht

I stumbled on this book at our local library. The subtitle caught my eye, both as a mother and as a pastor’s wife—“How to create a culture that cares for kids.” Mr. Vollbracht lectures across the country on community life and the positive development of teens. He believes there are six interconnected circles of culture (the individual, the family, the neighborhood, the community, business and government, and our elders), and if we’re going to do well with our young people we must find ways to connect them into each one. We value their contributions, listen to their voices, and maximize their strengths. Wow! Now I want to start a campaign.

“Our kids are a very important barometer of how we all are doing, and if they are in crisis, we as a culture and community are in crisis as well.” —Vollbracht

this is not my hat

This is Not My Hat and
I Want My Hat Back
by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen’s books are amazing! He builds a perfect interplay between words (only a few of them) and illustrations (understated and hilarious). He leaves lots of room for childish imagination and problem solving to figure out exactly what happened. These two stories make me laugh out loud.

The strangest thing happened to me while reading this collection of books. On Sunday I finished Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand and picked up The Lord and His Prayer to begin reading. In chapter one, I came to a full stop at this quote from T. S. Eliot: “And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Whoa. Major déjà vu. I just read that somewhere!

Sure enough—in the final chapter of Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand. Now how weird is that?

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What have you been reading lately? I’m always up for more suggestions!