Books worth reading

Literature / Friday, February 3rd, 2017

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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22 Replies to “Books worth reading”

  1. Have you heard of The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd Jones? Not exactly a devotional I guess but does a fabulous job of showing Jesus through every Bible story. After my niece read it, she commented, “You sort of get the idea that Jesus came to rescue us.” Exactly, young lady! I love Sally’s writing style.

  2. I very much enjoyed Being Mortal. I am listening to A Man Named Ove, on Audible right now… So far, I am really enjoying it. I think you would too. Thanks for sharing. Kim G

  3. Aww now I have a deepening lovely despair… I have a stack of books fully 3 feet high by my bed that I have been longing to read and now I want to read every one you recommend! Why did you do that to me?!?

    Have you ever read Gail Carson Levine’s book Ella Enchanted? I’m not sure if it’s a children’s book or not but honestly I’ve read it about a dozen times. I love it! And on a more serious note, Grace-filled Parenting filled a critical need in my job as a mother. I am currently reading Gods at war and it is excellent…

  4. People probably get sick of me talking about it but my current favorite is Falling Free by one of my favorite bloggers, Shannan Martin. Lots to digest there, and I’m still chewing…

  5. If you liked Underground Railroad, you should read Underground Airlines by Ben H Winter. Alternate universe stuff, what if the civil war had never happened? And extraordinarily well written. It’s another best book of 2016.

    Also, for a yearning-for-summer, light and lovely read, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin. Different than what I usually read but just lovely.

  6. I am fascinated to see you enjoyed “Zen.” I recently had a conversation with someone who is not a Christian… I was curious because she has a gift for seeing people and problems in a positive light, so I asked her how she became that way. She immediately brought up this book!

    1. Yes! That’s a big theme in this book. The title sounds alarming, but it’s not really about Zen. It’s a search for Goodness (the author calls it Quality) in the world – in practical living as well as all the way back through philosophy, to the ancient Greeks. I call it a search for Jesus. Mr. Pirsig leaves out that piece, but he is pointing His direction, whether he knows it or not…

  7. I’m dredging up an old post, I know, but I have a question. First, I Love! your book recommendations! I have a teenage son who wants more beefy reading about issues rather than so much fun stories for fun. I think it’s the age where the thirst for information about how the world works is nearly insatiable in him. Your lists have been so helpful. Also reading for me! A book review from you is almost a guarantee it’s a book I’ll love. 🙂

    Now for the question, the “News of the world” version you read, did it use quotation marks? The absence of quotation marks is about to drive my brain to distraction!

    1. Haha! I forgot about that, but no – it did not use quotation marks. I rather liked that, as I’ve always seen quotation marks as optional and semi-distracting, myself. Think of it this way… that removing quotation marks sends you deeper into the characters’ emotions and thoughts. So much more is always being said than meets the eye. I’m sorry it makes you crazy though – I can see how that would be!

      Glad you and your son love books! I hope to share some more soon.

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