Monday, January 14, 2013

My Bookshelf

About a week before Christmas, my two older sons came home from college for their very long break.
We had a fantastic month together.
But whew!
It was a little crazy around here.
Our house is not big, and we were all seven together for the first time.

They love this little brother of theirs.
He got used to having them around.
He wanted to attack the guitar every time they played
(and they played off and on all day long).
Malachi hasn't figured out where the sound comes from.
His little fingers scrabble at the strings, then he dives in with his face.

While I was doing who-knows-what, and keeping very busy at it
(I can't remember now why I felt so busy, it had something to do with taking care of a baby
and messes and food prep),
my big sons mostly spent their days reading.
They come home with lists of books they've been starving to read.
And it has been so long since I was told what I had to study,
what I had to read,
that I  forgot what a privilege it is to read whatever you wish.

   This is the sad truth:
since having kids, I have mostly read magazines.
Some of them have pretty good essays,
but those cannot compare
with a perfectly written book.

These are five of my favorites.
I took this picture because these are hard-covers, but they are also keepers.
Moby Dick is slow going, but worth the time.
Jim the Boy is like a long poem.  Tony Earley sometimes spent a day crafting a single sentence.
The Great Gatsby is one I revisit every now and then.  How did a partying non-believer so perfectly depict
a person lost to his false self?
The Ladies of Missalonghi is lovely, an easy read by the author of The Thorn Birds.
And although I had read To Kill a Mockingbird at least twice before,
when I read it again last week,
all the words seemed new.
 I found myself in tears at unlikely places.
"Atticus, are we going to win it?
"No, honey."
"Then why --"
"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason 
for us not to try to win," Atticus said."

A person's bookshelf reveals so much.
Maybe I'm the only one who does this, but when I'm perusing decorating magazines,
I focus on the bookshelves.
What does this person read?
 I've decided that in many cases, these wealthy mansion-dwellers are reading garbage.
Okay, maybe not garbage.
But they could do better.
I could do better, too.

Here is "better."
I think my sons have read all of these,
and I have only read one, Surprised by Joy.
I've read bits and snatches of the others, but this year I'll try to read the stack.

From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis:
"I do not think any efforts of my own will end once and for all this craving for limited liabilities, this fatal reservation. Only God can. I have good faith and hope He will. Of course, I don't mean I can therefore, as they say, "sit back." What God does for us, He does in us. The process of doing it will appear to me (and not falsely) to be the daily or hourly repeated exercies of my own will in renouncing this attitude, especially each morning, for it grows all over me like a new shell each night.
Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularized presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own. We may never, this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government. And this, so far as I can yet see, must be begun again every day. Our morning prayer should be that in the Da hodie perfecte incipere -- grant me to make an unflawed beginning today, for I have done nothing yet."

Strange how good writing is cohesive,
as though there is only one Story after all.
Atticus Finch and C.S. Lewis are saying the same thing.

What about you? What are you reading this year?
We carry a light burden, to read books of our own choosing.

Some of my other favorites:
The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer)
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Pulitzer)
The 20-book sea saga by Patrick O'Brian
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie
John Adams by David McCullough
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (children's lit)
The Betsy-Tacy books (children's lit)
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor (children's lit)

(I've spent years procuring most of these books. I recommend having a houseful of real books, in order for your children to always have a good read at hand.  But for the rest of you, Kindle makes hard-to-find books accessible).




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