2016 in Books 

Happy New Year, everyone!

It may very well be that I only started this blog so I could write annual book wrap-up posts.  I love them.

2016 was an intense reading year for me.  I wrestled with a lot, challenged some long-held beliefs and assumptions and refined my understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image.  Here are some of the highlights (asterisks refer to the number of times I’ve read something, if it was a re-read):

Favorite Family Read-Aloud

A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne   51srx2kzbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

A dreamy combination of New England country living and vivid Greek mythology, this book is an AO Free Read, but I think it has fostered some of the most discussion, connections and spontaneous narrations of anything we read this past fall.  I relished the imagery and several passages made it into my commonplace.

Most Spiritually Impactful Read

the-broken-way-ann-voskampThe Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

I knew I definitely wanted to read this book when I got around to it, but one day in November I felt an almost overwhelming need to find a copy right away.  I was in a terrible mood, so it’s hard to say confidently that it was the Holy Spirit, who knows, but from the first page, it was an almost instant correction, call to repentance, call to something more, and the truths it preaches have gotten me through a very difficult holiday season.  I don’t usually ask my husband to read my favorite books, because we have very different tastes, but I’ve been begging him to read this one.

I’m also thinking this will become an annual read for me, a ritual I’ve never practiced before but often admired.

Biggest Reading Challenge

Norms and Nobility by David V. Hicks

This book 6b9b5b4270c1d2a6fc8d19ccff9a5b2ajust required such slow, careful, researched reading, but it was worth the time and effort.  The chapter on Christian paideia cleared up some significant questions I’ve had for the last three years about the Christian classical education movement.

Honorable Mention: America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis (this one I labeled a challenge because it addresses some very painful issues in our country that are much easier not to acknowledge, but I found it a very helpful, clarifying read when I pushed through the discomfort).

Most Pleasurable Re-Read

wind-in-the-willows-kenneth-grahame-ernest-h-shepardThe Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame***

This book came alive for me in a big way the third time through, and I absolutely loved reading along with the Close Reads podcast and discussing further on Facebook–one of my comments even got mentioned in an episode!  I developed a new admiration and affection for Mole this time.

  • Honorable Mention: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis** (I read this immediately after finishing a year-long study of Revelation with BSF…a perfect conclusion)

Favorite Fiction

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson**housekeeping

I’m SUCH a Marilynne Robinson groupie and am moving on to her essays in 2017.  This is her first novel, published way back in 1980, long before she breathed life into the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa (aka, my family…I think they will be in heaven…just kidding, but possibly?).  Anyway, Housekeeping is difficult (I read it twice in a row) and haunting, and it speaks deep truths about the homelessness all humans feel in this life on earth.

  • Honorable Mention: Lila by Marilynne Robinson (the third of the Gilead novels, also about home, homelessness and transience)

The Rest of the Books of 2016

Novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen***, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Short Stories: “Fidelity” by Wendell Berry, “Revelation,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor, “The Chief Mourner of Marne” by G.K. Chesterton

Epic Poetry: Dante’s Inferno

Nonfiction: Generous Justice by Tim Keller, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie, Minds More Awake by Anne White, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

AO Years 1/2 (with Ellary): Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, Tree In the Trail by Holling C. Holling, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling**, The Door In the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Pocahontas, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Buffalo Bill and George Washington by the d’Aulaires

AO Year 11 (for my own education): Ezekiel, II Corinthians, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (on audio). 


Coming Soon…my reading plans for 2017!


“Enfeebled in body and fretful and discontented in temper”

Instead of accepting the relations, friends, and neighbours that God sends us in the course of our lives, the devotee of Beauty chooses for himself, and cares to know only those people whose view of life are the same as his own. So with regard to places, he cannot tolerate for a moment things which are unsightly and unlovely, so he does not go where working people and poor people have to live. In the end, he misses the happiness to which the Beauty Sense was meant to minister. For happiness comes of effort, service, wide interests, and, last and least, of enjoyment; and when people put enjoyment, even of beautiful things, in the first place (and indeed in place of all else), they miss the very thing they seek, and become enfeebled in body and fretful and discontented in temper. […] [W]e must not let any better-than-my-neighbour notions get into our heads; and in the next, we must make it our business, as much as in us lies, to bring Beauty to places where it is not.

–Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

I wonder very much what Charlotte Mason would have made of our despicable new President-Elect and the kind of culture he is shaping for the unsightly, unlovely, poor and marginalized people in this nation.

Repentance Everyday

Kierkegaard prays:

You that gives both the beginning and the completion, give your victory in the day of need so that what neither our burning wish nor our determined resolution may attain to, may be granted unto us in the sorrowing of repentance: to will only one thing.

We’re in the final countdown to the first day of our new school year.  I am chock full of burning wishes and determined resolutions.  I have thought so much about my will in the last six months.  I have been praying fervently for this new year.

But Andrew Kern also said it: “The only thing we should worry about everyday is repentance.”

I repent that I have not willed only one thing.  I can tell that as I have diligently planned and purchased and prayed, my grip has gotten tighter and tighter on my vision for my homeschool.

Truly, the only thing that I need to do everyday is repent.  I need to will everyday to seek first the kingdom of God, and when I fail, I repent.  Put this on repeat and keep moving.

WWW ladydusk

Closing the Book

I’ve just established my first blog category called “Closing the Book.”

Closing the Book Graphic

In the last few years, I’ve developed a semi-neurotic way of reading that has multiple steps and ends with a celebratory (but always temporary) shelving of a book.  Depending on the genre and difficulty of the reading, it can take me anywhere from a day to two weeks to actually close the book down once I’ve finished it.  I’m not suggesting these steps to people as practical advice; just thought some might find it interesting, and I wonder if anyone else has practices in this vein?

I read How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and learned about Andrew Kern’s highlighting technique during the same summer.  This brought my reading speed from rapid to…tortoise…paced, and also made my books neon.  That highlighting technique seems to be something each person must make their own.  I started out trying to closely follow the guidelines and realized that my brain was working against that rhythm.  I use pink for proper names, phrases in other languages and words I don’t know.  I use green to mark out the basic structure of the prose.  I use blue for passages I like, as directed.  The main difference is that I highlight in pink and green as I go, not during a pre-scan.  For fiction, I still only underline in pencil, which has always been my way.  (I’m pretty sure that same summer I indexed Gilead like a total freak).

Photo Jun 05, 3 10 09 PMAround that time, I also started commonplacing again.  I have had a commonplace book since 2002, but I didn’t know that’s what it’s called until I started homeschooling.  It had been years since I had made an entry, and it has since become one of my favorite and most refreshing activities.  I’ve noticed that a lot of people commonplace as they read, stopping to add a quote just when they find it.  I prefer to finish the whole book and then go back to find the passages that I feel most exemplify what I learned from the book or enjoyed about it.  (That’s where the blue highlighter comes in handy).  With a non-fiction book, I usually have absolutely TONS of stuff highlighted, and sometimes I take the time to type all of those passages into Evernote for future reference.  Only the most important passages actually make it into my handwritten commonplace book.  This, as you can see, is why it can take a ridiculously long time for me to “close the book”!

BeFunky Collage-close the bookI have also been known to reach the last page of a book and then promptly start back over, because I didn’t think I understood it well enough the first time.  Sometimes I think I’m pretty crazy, but every time I officially shelve a book, I feel that it has been my companion and has taught me much and that I have listened to it and interacted with it to the fullest.  And every time I read through my commonplace, the connections between one quote and another are extraordinary.

In terms of quantity, I ingest probably 50% less content than I used to.  I can guarantee, though, that I’m digesting far more of it than I ever have!

keeping company


This poem has been getting to me lately.


If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.

That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and circling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of the trees.

My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged my lofty career.
So to please her I studied—but I will remember always
How she poured confusion out, how she cooled and labeled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

-Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, v. 1

They won’t let me read.

“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers.  You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.”

“And how long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know.  As long as you live, perhaps.”

“That could be a long time.”

“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said.  “It may take longer.”

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow


I have a vivid image of myself, sitting in the comfy blue striped chair in the kitchen, reading voraciously with highlighters and pencil in hand.  The table to my left holds a stack of books and my steaming coffee.  I am in my element.

My two-year-old finishes breakfast and climbs into my lap.  She’s squirmy and loud.  She may have a book for me to read to her, or she may just want to climb on me.  “Let me finish this section,” I say, not that she cares about my agenda for the morning.  There’s no way I can write notes anymore, and drinking my coffee is awkward and probably dangerous, but I trudge forward and my irritability starts to heat up.  I just want to grasp something new, tuck away an insight for future study.  The odds are good that it’s a book on educational philosophy or a Bible study.  Just a little more quiet time to think!

How many times has this scene closed with a sturdy plunking of the toddler on the floor and an enraged stalking from the room, because THEY JUST WON’T LET ME READ?!

The ridiculous irony here is that I was absolutely reading something that could teach me to be a better mother, if I’d let it.  But letting it involves putting it down and putting it into practice.  Finding out if my fine-sounding rubber can handle the reality of my road.  The only way I can test out any of these questions is to live them.

“Will God give me the energy I need to love my children today?” Put the book down, look your children in the eyes, and PRAY.

“Does narration really work?  Will Ellary make her own connections if I read living books to her?”  Turn off the podcast, turn off the cartoons and read to her.

“Does God want to use me to encourage others?” Exit the blog, stop thinking about exactly what to say and say something.  

Stop avoiding life.  Move toward relationships.  Be uncomfortable.  Choose and act.  These are the words my heart is speaking to my mind.